As customer relationship management, resource management, cloud-based accounting and human resources software reach market saturation in the business world, it is no surprise that a new generation of products has emerged seeking to bring the same principles to the management of educational institutions. Due to such rapid growth in the school management technology sector, the term School Management System has come to represent an array of heterogeneous tools and functionalities rather than a codified software package. To offer a blueprint of a typical school management system, then, would immediately fail to capture the fragmented and specialized nature of the products in the market. Instead, it is far more practical to approach the evaluation of school management systems by first understanding those components which your school could or would use in order to deduce the most appropriate product to suit your needs.
The following list of features represents the potential solutions that a school management system can provide in the broadest sense since many offer more than one of the features discussed here but few offer the entire list as described in detail.
Depending on the product, the admissions process within a school management system can include automated enquiry management, online document and application validation, and even online enrollment. Additional consideration should be given to whether your admissions process is closely tied to financial aid if integrated processes such as aid estimation and compliance monitoring would be contributing factors in your decision.
Perhaps the most competitive aspect of school management systems is registration and scheduling wherein enterprise solutions that provide registration modules contend with numerous standalone registration solutions for schools seeking to alleviate a specific pain point. Most registration solutions include automatic schedule generation, an online course grid or portal, calendar integration, and email templates or a proprietary messaging system for quick communication among students and faculty.
Gone are the days of gradebooks being lost to coffee spillage or compromised due to tampering with a No. 2 pencil. Online gradebooks not only make it easy for administrators to access a particular class or teacher’s records, but also make entering grades and compiling months of data a virtually hassle-free process. Since attendance is usually a part of the grading process, many school management gradebooks also include the ability to track attendance and automatically compute its effect on the final grade. When the semester is done, report cards and transcripts are automatically generated and immediately accessible to students and their parents.
An increasing number of schools are moving to online homework and assignment systems because of the significant reduction in cost compared to printed materials, ease of materials distribution and clearly assigned due dates, and simply because students are more comfortable working with digital documents than carrying around printed syllabi, study guides, and assignment sheets. Some systems also include parental access to the homework portal so assignments and grades can be monitored between report cards.
While most school management systems include a shared calendar function and CRM-style database for easy communication between faculty members and parents, certain companies have expanded this idea to include built-in email marketing capability for increased exposure of fundraising, events, and announcements. It should be noted, however, that the need for fundraising management is addressed in a variety of ways across the industry and that certain systems include dedicated fundraising modules that track contacts, donations, and can process payment online.
Despite that most schools already use accounting software, the ability to track fees and process online payments within a school management system is still incredibly useful for creating invoice templates, monitoring outstanding balances at a glance, and easily distributing bills. Integrated payment gateways also make it much easier to determine late fees, manage cash flow, and accept payment by ACH, Credit, or Debit.
Though such unfettered parental access to grades, upcoming assignments, and alerts might be the bane of most students’ existence, increased visibility into coursework not only enables parents to have informed discussions with teachers about the material being taught, but also encourages parents to take a more active role in their child’s education which can only yield positive results. On the other hand, when students claim that they’ve already done all of their homework they’ll have the evidence to back it up.
Not a feature per se but a necessary part of the school management system infrastructure, software that aims to provide more than one of the features previously mentioned is usually managed via a centralized dashboard that controls permissions, access to records, documents, and internal communication. The reach of school management dashboards varies widely, however, and can be as narrow as simple user administration or as broad as to include every aspect of student and faculty data management including health screenings and prerequisite checking.
The landscape of school management software is changing by the day, and although the market is currently split among a large number of developers putting forward similar but ultimately specialized products, the need for such software is one that will only continue to grow. As this growth occurs, the capability of school management systems will at once become increasingly targeted and comprehensive until a true industry standard emerges based on consumer needs. For now it is up to the end users, school administrators, to decide what works best in practical application and help shape the future of how schools run.