Is investing in a new student system a smart move? More colleges are signing on

However, the costs can be significant, and the functionality of cloud systems remains a concern.
By: | June 15, 2022
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Intent on improving the student experience and no longer facings setbacks in implementation, the number of colleges and universities investing in student information systems rose by 98% last year to end a half-decade of declines.

The uptick in the adoption of new software among the collective of more than 3,600 institutions included a stunning 667% increase in spending from public universities. The results are highlighted in the Tambellini Group’s Student Systems Higher Education Market Share, Trends, and Leaders Report.

As enrollments drop off and higher ed faces questions about value, the move to replace outdated systems is a must, though not cheap or easy to implement. The year prior, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions were reluctant to forge ahead with new systems given operations shutdowns across the U.S., supply chain issues, and concerns over financial investment. A 15% drop was the highest reported in five years. Instead, they spent more on human capital management and finance systems, rather than bundling them together. However, there seemed to be no such apprehension in 2021. The number of private nonprofits investing in student systems rose 121%, and even two-year institutions surged 68%.

“For quite some time, institutions have been very interested in student systems that enable them to provide streamlined services and automated technology to modernize the student experience, but they were hesitant to make selections because of past delays from vendors in delivering needed functionality,” said Vicki Tambellini, founder and CEO of Tambellini Group. “The strong growth in 2021 represents a significant turning point. We predict ongoing acceleration in investments as available systems continue to evolve and institutions show renewed interest in resuming selections delayed during the pandemic.”

Before COVID-19 hit, Tambellini had predicted there would be a 30% increase in investment in new systems. The struggle to get back on solid footing took more than a year, but it appears institutions are ready to continue the momentum of 2021. That’s important because more than two-thirds have outdated systems, and institutions know they must provide 24/7 access for students to services and more streamlined admissions and financial aid processes.


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Colleges and universities want to provide better experiences, but that adoption requires a substantial commitment, in the range of $5 million on the lower end to as much as $100 million just in the first five years, according to Tambellini Group. There are risks in investing that kind of capital and in not pushing forward as old systems are far less able to mesh with new technology and security.

Tambellini notes that only about 5% have adopted cloud-native systems in the past seven years because they haven’t met their needs or because of complexities in implementation, especially for large institutions. While Workday and Jenzabar solutions remain the most popular choices, Workday was the lone vendor to offer a fully cloud-native student system in 2021, though not without issue. Ohio State University had to abandon its plans midstream on its new student information system through Workday because of complications and lack of functionality, losing millions of dollars.

Jenzabar and Oracle are supposed to have their cloud-based systems ready to roll next year. Anthology, Ellucian and Thesis are in the working phase of updating their systems.