Incorporating Software Into Your Student Life Budget

Technology and software have the ability to rapidly change the nature of your student life department or division.

Online procedures, workflow systems, and organizational management software have been changing drastically to fit the diverse needs of student affairs professionals over the past decade.

Students, families, and new professionals now expect to interact with some piece of software whether it’s an online job application, joining a club or organization, or selecting a room during the housing lottery process. So why are so many colleges and universities still utilizing paper processes or complicated spreadsheets?

Today, there are varieties of softwares available to assist with processes, reduce margin-of-error and increase the security of student information. In the long term, these tools can simplify work, reduce costs, and help with streamlining managerial tasks. However, it can be difficult to include software as a line item in your budget if personnel lack software experience, the department has decreasing student life funds, or the initial investment of on-boarding a new software is determined too costly.

The Presence team works with institutions across the world to implement our software on campuses, not to mention our individual expertise with on-boarding or creating software in our past roles as student affairs professionals or student leaders. The suggestions we offer below are useful for student affairs professionals who are looking to incorporate software into their budget and rationalize why adopting new software for their department or division may be a good decision.

Justifying Software

It’s exciting to think about how software can change processes or outdated systems in your area of influence and it’s important to also look at the bigger picture of how it affects the department or institution. Institutions of higher education are known for being slow to change or adopt new processes, so thinking about how you will justify the software in advance will be helpful when you explain why it needs to be included in your budget. Here are questions to consider when justifying software:

  • What are tasks that consume the most time that could easily be completed or solved by implementing software?
  • Will the software enable you or another stakeholder to meet a particular goal of your strategic plan?
  • How long would it realistically take to acquire, test, and implement the software?
  • Who needs buy-in? (Information Technology, Registrar, Enrollment Management, Student Success, etc.)
  • What level of management/support will the software require?
  • Is it a hosted solution, or will your resources require customer service/equipment?
  • How will student data or university data be secured?
  • Does it help make money, lose money, or both?

Other considerations include return on investment, potential cost savings, and additional revenue generated after the software is implemented. There are also intangible returns like cultural benefits and better customer service which are more challenging to quantify.

If a solution increases return on investment:

  • It cuts down time on processes
  • It allows professionals to spend more time with students
  • It costs less per year than a past software system

For example, with Presence we find institutions who use our software spend their money more efficiently because they’re able to use real-time analytics to determine the best areas to allocate funds. Many institutions are cutting budgets due to low student retention rates, and institutions who utilize Presence have found that if they can retain just three to four students, the cost of the software is paid for and funds can be re-allocated to pay for it. These considerations are important to think about before creating interest and buy-in about the software with your team.

Creating Buy-In

For software to be widely adopted, users must learn how to use the service and all the features of the product to be helpful. The institutional or departmental culture will determine how personnel may use or adopt the new software to improve their own practices to increase student support. With this in mind, university leadership, other departments, and colleagues will want to know how new software will be successful before committing resources to change.

Overall, there are a few reasons why software benefits professionals who work closely with students or student information. The modern college student expects processes to be streamlined by using technology and the most up-to-date software. Students and families expect answers quickly and accurately, not to mention to be provided with additional information than they originally asked for.

When used effectively, software improves efficiency and reduces barriers for students when interacting with staff on campus by making processes seem easy and user-friendly. Students are more likely to use a system or process when it’s viewed as more accessible.

Before you bring information to your leadership team make it a priority to understand what their role looks like and the specific needs they have. This may take some time and looking at individual’s priorities will give you a better understanding of how to navigate individual conversations. One of the best ways to demonstrate the benefits of software is through the calculation of menial tasks. Add up minutes and hours colleagues spend on tasks that could be accomplished by software.

  • How will software change the workload for each person?
  • If decided upon, who is responsible for communication with the software company?
  • What does communication and support from the software company look like?

If the software is difficult to learn employees or colleagues may complain, especially if they don’t have a lot of tech experience.

Employees must see that software helps them do their jobs rather than adding a new layer of work.

Areas people will be concerned with include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Learning the software. Is it intuitive and simple to use?
  • Accommodation of existing processes. Does it add additional capabilities on top of what you already have?
  • Centralization of data reporting. Is it well organized?

For example, one of Presence’s popular forms feature replaces all paper form processes. No more tracking or keeping filing cabinets full of forms from years passed. Workflows can be determined through different levels of approval and and administrators can give feedback to students promptly. Students no longer have to spend their time bouncing from office to office looking for applications or forms. Administrative margin-of-error decreases because forms are no longer lost on a desk or buried deep in a filing cabinet.

More than often, software solutions you’ve found to solve your needs, also solves equally important needs for others. Keeping this in mind, allows you to explore channels and benefits to better buy-in.

How to Justify Resources

Looking at the cost and value of software will be a crucial factor when making a final decision. If your team encounters obstacles in acquiring funds for the software, take a look at programs or services that may be postponed for the year. A large concert or multiple smaller programs could be deferred or altered to offset the cost of the software that would make the rest of the programs and services even better.

It’s important to look at all sections of your budget (capital projects, programming, tech fees) to adjust funds and assess where funds may be moved to accommodate for software that will benefit many people. If the software benefits multiple departments, look into cost sharing and present the software to other administrators on campus to rally resources. Most resources are provided to a department based on enrollment numbers and through cost-sharing, departments can seek ways of reducing costs by sharing savings between departments or central administration.

Cost Sharing Across Student Affairs Departments

Departments can jointly seek ways to hold down or reduce costs for achieving particular goals through using software. In return, departments could share in a portion of any savings generated and can be given back to the department for it’s own purposes. Departments now have an incentive to consider ways to cut costs because they would share in the benefits of the short and long-term outcomes. At the same time, central administration can use savings to reduce increases in tuition costs or pay for rising program costs in other areas.

Departments often share the same needs. Sharing costs for the same solution makes it easier.

With Presence, we often work with a Student Life department, or equivalent, to get the buy-in from other departments or groups to help with cost sharing. For example, we’ll often find that student government, dean of students, recreation and athletics, career services, residence life, institutional research, and more, also find we solve their needs and are ready to help with costs associated to use software as a solution.

Software as a “Solution”

Many institutions are considering the use of software to support students through streamlined personnel processes and as a cost savings. We recognize that implementing software will be easier at some institutions than others due to needs and resources. Supporting a cost-effective software into your budget helps departmental or divisional leadership demonstrate that they have taken steps towards improving workflow processes at both administrative and student levels. Student life divisions have an obligation to provide students with the best co-curricular experience by incorporating the most up-to-date technology and software.

Have you recently on-boarded software to your department or institution? Tweet @themoderncampus, connect with us, and share your story!

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Winston, R., & Creamer, D. The professional student affairs administrator: Educator, leader, and manager.

Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham (she/hers) is a former Community Engagement Manager at Modern Campus Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.