Student information system investments hit 5-year low

Wanting to implement changes but struggling with vendor options and costs, institutions turn to other options.

Desperate to make a switch but put off by vendor timelines and cost, many higher education institutions instead abandoned their plans to replace tired student information systems (SIS) when the COVID-19 pandemic struck last March, according to a new report released by The Tambellini Group.

In fact, leaders at Tambellini say investments hit a five-hit low in 2020 – a 15% decrease year over year of colleges infusing new systems technology solutions. Rather, they opted to provide more tools and more robust virtual experiences for students. By contrast, institutions increased their investments in both finance and human capital management systems by 40% and 45% respectively in 2020.

It’s not that institutions didn’t want or need the upgrades – the vast majority (72%) have been running student systems on site that are more than 20 years old – but vendors have been unable to deliver timely and workable solutions and present affordable options. Prior to the pandemic, Tambellini Group had predicted a 30% year-over-year increase in these investments for 2020.

“We predict that many institutions will remain hesitant to make large-scale changes due to a lack of fully mature options at competitive prices and ongoing delays from vendors in delivering solutions with the required functionality this market demands,” says Vicki Tambellini, CEO and Founder of The Tambellini Group. “There is renewed interest in modern cloud-based platforms as institutions resume and accelerate previously paused plans to improve their technology stack to serve students, faculty and staff and provide a more secure and scalable environment.”

The cost of replacing legacy systems with cloud-based options can run upwards of $100 million in just five years for large universities. The Tambellini Group notes that even smaller colleges can spend $5 million over that time frame for implementation. Delays also may be a factor – for example, Oracle’s cloud system is now set for fall of 2023, after four straight years of pushing back/postponing its delivery date.

Looking to the cloud

One trend that is emerging, and noted in the 2021 Student System US Higher Education Market Share, Trends, and Leaders Report, is that nearly one-quarter of the 4,300 institutions within the study have moved on-site legacy systems to the cloud and are utilizing managed hosting or SaaS. A little more than 4% have decided to adopt modern cloud student systems, though only 26 institutions have fully implemented them.

The costs might be high but so are the stakes as institutions strive to meet evolving student needs by delivering high-touch, 24/7, streamlined experiences. When users are forced to navigate a disjointed array of technology tools and platforms across their registrations, support and coursework, it can be defeating. Some students – those seeking credentials and degrees – might even look at other institutions that have their infrastructure and stakeholder teams more cohesively aligned.

“Students expect efficient, personalized engagement in all realms of communications and services,” the report’s authors note. “Institutions feel more urgency than ever before to improve the student experience and are increasingly inclined to regard cloud-based systems as mission-critical investments as they compete fiercely for students who expect the same convenience and on-demand access offered by modern e-commerce giants like Amazon.”

Is your institution ready for a change? Aside from the financial investment, know that solutions take years and must involve multiple campus leaders – from IT to faculty. And it is important to factor in delays when looking at any timelines for implementation. Among those offering modern cloud systems are Oracle, Unit 4, Workday and Ellucian. Anthology, Ellucian, and Jenzabar offer cloud deployment via hosted or managed services.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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