“My job is to ensure that this college–this institution which has stood as Noble, Grand and True for over 200 years–continues to stand and thrive for many generations to come.” Two years ago, then Maryville College President-elect, Dr. Bryan Coker, promised the campus and Blount County communities a more sustainable and diverse future better prepared to thrive in the college’s third century. This fall, the Information Technology (IT) department begins transitioning the campus’ Student Information Software (SIS) infrastructure to realize that effect.
Chief Operations Officer John Berry said,“The joke I tell is I moved into my office in 2014. I pulled out this dusty old PowerCampus manual, and it was like 20 years old when they first put it in on campus. And then a week later, I got access to PowerCampus, and it hadn’t changed.”
Berry, who has worked as Maryville College’s Director of IT since 2014 and was recently promoted, has played an instrumental role in facilitating the transition from the previously contracted SIS, Ellucian.
One of the major SIS providers, Ellucian boasts “the world’s best higher education workflows,” according to their website. Through a variety of cloud-based “solutions” –subscription and package options–Ellucian services over 1,200 higher education institutions and facilitates upwards of five billion data transactions across the host platform.
Ellucian’s product, PowerCampus, is the current SIS utilized by the College. It works as the engine for those administrative processes which students typically only see a fraction of. The user interface (UI) Self-Service is the most student-facing aspect, and even it is only “the tip of the iceberg,” according to Berry.
“The bulk of it is what makes our offices run,” said Berry. “When the business office manages student accounts or, you know, traditional business invoicing and receiving. Or, the Registrar’s office, all the things they do for transcripts and course management…That’s part of the Ellucian portfolio products we have today.”
All of the administrative sector at Maryville College is tied up in Ellucian’s PowerCampus. That integration is part of what enticed the College originally, but over the years, PowerCampus hasn’t kept pace with expanding needs and goals in a “modern” campus ecology.
Then, a little less than one year ago, Coker gave the OK to the Presidential Cabinet to begin exploring innovative solutions that would better accommodate the student population relative to campus budget. So began a months-long consultation and testing process.
Three providers emerged from that exploratory phase, ranked on a sliding scale of familiarity: Ellucian Colleague, Anthologies and Jenzabar ONE.
According to Berry, Ellucian Colleague, the middle-tier solution offered between PowerCampus and Banner, would have significantly improved functionality, the Cabinet’s main concern, and the upgrade itself would have been relatively simple. Add in the stellar reviews Berry had heard from peers in higher education using Colleague, and it was shaping up to be a strong early contender.
There were more than structural issues to consider, however. At the lowest tier on Ellucian’s solutions options, Berry described PowerCampus support as “very tedious and convoluted.” The systems were great when they worked, but the idea of not having a company they could trust at any subscription level “kind-of took Colleague off the table pretty quickly for us,” Berry said.
Anthology, which owns the online learning platform Blackboard, was another SIS provider which the Cabinet considered. Despite an impressive technological resume, Anthology’s for-profit model and recent interest in the non-profit higher education sector caused some hesitation.
“Anthology [is] very impressive from a technology perspective, sort of exciting,” said Ben Howard, recently promoted Director of IT at Maryville College. “But when you get into the weeds of that…talking about the nature of the way it was designed and things like that compared to something like Jenzabar, where they have had a fairly reliable and consistent product that has grown over time and become more technically advanced…and Anthology, it’s complex. It’s being converted from a different model which seemed like a lot more potential for higher risks.”
Berry and Howard stressed, however, that there were no plans to replace Blackboard as the current online-learning platform.
Finally, there was Jenzabar, “the most selected student information system in higher education,” according to their website. Like Ellucian, Jenzabar has been on the SIS market for a while and has technology on par with the former. Between the two, however, the Cabinet found that “Jenzabar gives us most of what we need,” according to Berry.
After Maryville College signed a contract with Jenzabar to transition to their Jenzabar ONE cloud-based solution, the Vice President of Development at Jenzabar contacted Berry to welcome Maryville College and open a line of communication.
“I’m really excited to be able to kind of point our direction even further in that being a student-facing department,” said Howard.
The transition process has already begun, but students won’t see any UI changes earlier than 2024, which provides more than enough time for any wrinkles to be ironed out.
“We’re not going to dump students into the new system until we know it’s ready to go,” says Berry. The sentiment was echoed by Howard, who emphasized that IT would be available and ready for any hiccups.