Lessons Learned about Campus Portals from Community Colleges

February 29, 2016  |  by: Delphina Saragosa
Campus Portal
Cloud Technologies
College Portal
Community Colleges
Higher Ed Tech

In an effort to better understand the unique needs of community colleges, rSmart conducted a brief survey around the campus portal experience.

It was our goal to capture feedback around current trends, design preferences, key features/functionality, and existing campus systems so we can continue to shape our product roadmap and offerings to meet the needs of students, faculty, and staff at colleges and universities of all sizes and types.

An email invitation was sent to more than 3,300 administrators at community colleges across the United States to complete the survey.

The feedback received was very beneficial to rSmart and it is our hope that community colleges interested in learning more about their peer institutions or are currently evaluating portal solutions will also find value in this report.

Demographics and IT Insights

Surveys were submitted by institutional staff from a variety of departments and divisions such as academics/instruction, information technology, marketing/communications, and student affairs. The vast majority of responders were part of a community college district or system with three or more campuses/locations.

More than half reported that their IT services and applications were managed at the district or system office. The largest group of responses represented schools with less than 10,000 students followed closely by 25,000 to 50,000 students.

When asked about authentication, a large number of participants indicated they were unsure of the system being used on campus. Others reported a mix of Shibboleth, Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS), Active Directory (AD), and Google Auth. Less than half of the participating institutions were utilizing single sign-on across all of their web-based services and applications.

Portal Use Among Community Colleges

The majority of respondents indicated their institution currently has a campus portal with the primary users being current students, faculty and staff. It was used to a lesser degree by prospective students and parents. This is fairly consistent with the current user base of 17 higher education institutions.

A wide variety of systems and applications are currently being used by community colleges as their portal solution. The majority reported using a vended solution from an ERP provider such as Jenzabar, Banner, PeopleSoft, Ellucian, or SunGard. The remaining schools were using their LMS software, a CMS system such as Drupal or Sharepoint, a homegrown system, or did not know the software or system. Many respondents also reported using a combination of multiple systems as their portal.

The length of time schools have been using their portal was widely distributed between 1 and 5 years, 6 to 10 years, and more than 10 years. There were no clear correlation found between the type of portal being used and the amount of time deployed and roughly one-third of the participants indicated that they were unsure if their institution had plans to upgrade or retire their campus portal in the next 12 to 24 months.   

The Good, the Bad, and the Wish List

A series of questions were asked about their current portal experience, what features/functionality would be on their “must-have” list if they were building or purchasing a next-generation portal solution, and whether a portal solution should be designed differently for a community college versus a four-year university.

When asked for their greatest frustration with the current portal solution, responses included: not very customizable in terms of look and feel, clunky to use, not available on my phone, and poor support. Conversely, when asked about their favorite thing about their current portal, responses included: familiarity with the system, good information in one place, flexibility, ease of use, and some customization available.

Similar themes such as ease of use, mobile-friendly, simple to navigate, support, and customization were also noted when asked what three features would be on their must-have list. Additional responses included: easy to implement, integration with current systems, low cost, a built-in app, easy to manage, and integration with their campus authentication/single sign-on.

The overwhelming response to whether a portal solution should be designed differently for a community college was that it shouldn’t be any different or it should be built the same. Additional responses included: the solution should be able to support a wide variety of use cases within any given institution and it should provide easier access for community members who use services such as non-credit courses.    

Raising Expectations for Campus Technologies

The results of this survey reaffirmed many of the insights and knowledge that rSmart has gained this past year working with a diverse set of institutions. It also exposed some current areas of opportunity to further enhance OneCampus while ensuring our next-generation portal solution remains affordable, easy to implement, mobile-friendly, and simple to use.

Key Takeaway #1: Legacy Portals are Aging

One of the key takeaways from this survey was that community colleges are using a variety of different systems and software as their campus portal (and in some cases, multiple solutions). Frustrations around their legacy systems becoming cluttered, expensive to maintain, and difficult to use on a mobile device were echoed by administrators at many institutions.

While students were not surveyed at this time, the lack of a single, centralized location to find and access campus services may be negatively impacting their ability to successfully navigate campus life and/or make the transition to a four-year university.

Key Takeaway #2: Single Sign-On Woes

Second, the ability to offer single sign-on (SSO) across all campus applications continues to be a challenge for many community colleges. While OneCampus does not provide SSO, it can help schools aggregate all of their services in one place while they work towards this goal. With OneCampus, when a student searches for a service and clicks to launch that application, they will be prompted to log in (just as they do now) as a final step. If authentication is not required, such as viewing a bus schedule, they will be taken directly to that service or website.  

Key Takeaway #3: Build for Flexibility

A third key takeaway was that participants in this survey felt strongly that a community college portal solution should not be designed any differently than a portal for a four-year institution but should offer flexibility to meet a variety of use cases. The response to this question was both intriguing and reassuring that many higher education institutions view the delivery of services, applications and information to students, faculty, and staff in similar ways. rSmart plans to do additional research and focus groups to make sure this is a valid assumption.

Learn more about OneCampus

As a solution built by higher education for higher education, your input is extremely valuable to rSmart and our growing OneCampus community. This short survey is just one piece in our research and outreach to community colleges. It is our hope that institutions will continue to share with us what they are looking for in a next-generation campus portal so we can further shape our product offering to meet their current and future needs.

Next Article
OneCampus: A GPS for Student Services and Resources
March 15, 2016 by Todd Yates