15th May 2006 Case study title: Online Enrolment at Kensington and Chelsea College Author’s name: Jeffery Rea, IT Manager Background: KCC is a general Further Education College historically focusing on adult students. We have a large number of part time courses and relatively few full time. KCC have had an online prospectus on our website linked into our student information system for some years now and we were one of the first colleges to achieve this (initially using Dolphin and now UNIT-e). We call this system KIPS – KCC Internet Prospectus System.
All the course details are drawn directly from the student information system and displayed on our website. This minimises work as the data only needs to be entered once and ensures that the course details advertised to students match the courses when they come to enrol. Intended outcome: While in funding terms the college is medium sized, the number of student enrolments is equivalent to many much larger colleges so the administrative overhead in processing enrolments is relatively high compared to income and this makes any way in which this process can be streamlined particularly attractive.
Main body of content: Online Enrolment Our first online enrolment system went live a couple of years ago and consisted of a web based form for students to enter their details and select courses from KIPS. The form was emailed internally and then students were called back to take their credit card details over the phone. This worked around the technical complexities of taking payments online, but more importantly, allowed a manual check on whether places were available and a conversation to confirm which fee should be paid.
Most of our courses have three fees, the standard fee, a concessionary fee for students receiving benefits and a “full cost” overseas fee. This was a “pseudo” online enrolment system in that the transaction was not actually completed online. However our research indicated that while a number of colleges appear to allow online enrolment, nearly all of them actually work in this way. Online Payment While this system was a benefit to students, it still involved administrative work, especially if students were not available to call back, so we needed to implement a full system which included online payment.
However, over a year later, no more than a couple of colleges were doing genuine online enrolment. At least one had tried but withdrawn their system due to problems linking to curriculum and charging the correct fees. This was clearly going to be a challenge. There were three big issues to overcome: – – the technical one of taking payment online and linking this into KIPS and the details the student enters keeping an accurate count of places available, given that this is not just an online system, but students are simultaneously enrolling in person and by post assessing which fee the student should pay –
Capita have an online enrolments system which we assessed last year, but agreed it was not suitable for our requirements: – KIPS was a mature system and giving us much more detailed control over which courses appeared on the website and how they were presented than the Capita system offered. We needed to do online fees assessment. We have a high proportion of students paying concessionary fees and it would have severely limited the benefits of the system if it could only cater for those students paying the full fee. We wanted to maximise the number of students who could enrol online, to free up resources at enrolment time.
The Capita system requires students to go through a registration process on the website before they can enrol, including setting up a password which they then have to remember. We felt that this presented too much of a barrier. In our system, students are asked to provide their student number for matching with their existing record if they have one, but are not forced. – – So we opted to develop our own, building on our existing KIPS. Requirements analysis and specification were done internally and we outsourced the development.
We also wanted to use the system for data validation, as UNIT-e only incorporates minimal validation in its data entry forms as standard. The new system has much more “intelligence” and is able to do fees assessment online and charge the appropriate fee – concession, full or overseas. It also intelligently asks questions according to previous answers – e. gg it only asks the ESF questions if the student has chosen an FE direct course. We thought carefully about how full courses should be handled. We could simply show courses as full on the website, so that they do not attract enrolments. But his is undesirable because students would simply go elsewhere and we would never know that we had lost them. We need to capture all the interest in a course, so we can offer students alternative courses or possibly run an additional course for them. Plus, knowing that interest exceeds places available is valuable for planning. However, in doing this, we must avoid frustrating students by collecting full enrolment details and only then telling them that the course is full. The balance struck is that we collect minimal personal details, before showing whether there are places available on the selected course.
The system takes credit card payments via a payment service provider, Protx; these are transferred to Barclay’s online services then into our bank account. This has been one of the most complex projects undertaken and it has been challenging. Not least the many stages of testing we have to undergo before being accepted by Barclays and Protx as an online business. To the best of our knowledge, no other college has a system like it – although a handful of other colleges take online payment, they only do so for students paying full fees.
In outline the stages are: 1. Student selects course 2. We ask for initial details so we can record all interest in courses 3. The system displays which occurrences have places free 4. If there are free places the student can proceed with enrolment 5. The enrolment dialogue varies according to the type of student and the type of course 6. Credit or debit card payment is taken via Protx 7. The enrolment details are recorded in the online enrolment system database. Phases Phase 1 – In the first phase upload of the enrolment data into UNIT-e is manual.
It is not practical to upload data directly into the UNIT-e database. Firstly, this would create many duplicate records. Secondly the database model is very complex, so it is not feasible to maintain data integrity without entering data through the UNIT-e interface. In addition, the detailed information collected by our current enrolment form doesn’t exactly reflect the data fields available in UNIT-e, which we must resolve before an electronic upload is possible. Even so, it is still a major advantage over data entry of handwritten enrolment forms.
There are no problems reading handwriting and data has been prevalidated. In practice it is not difficult keeping up with data entry alongside personal and postal enrolments. We are only expecting this to be an issue in the peak rush prior to September (2006) and by when we plan to have Phase 2. Phase 2 – In the second phase, we will upload enrolments into UNIT-e using Capita’s back end for their own online enrolment system. This still requires a manual checking process to link new enrolments to existing student records, but data upload is then electronic.
Capita are currently making major changes to both the UNIT-e interface and the database structure which will be released later this year. We must wait for this to be available because there is no point building an interface before then. Key Outcomes: Benefits and issues Benefits Building our own form has enabled us to incorporate validation rules which apply as the form is being completed, which ensures invalid data is not entered in the first place and so reduces the work removing errors before funding returns can be done.
In addition to the obvious benefits to students of offering a remote online enrolment service, we are starting to use the system in additional ways: – To collect overseas fees where the students are in different time zones and it is hard to contact them To offer “self-service” enrolment from computers within the College for students who might not have web access and who would normally have to queue up. This will be especially valuable at peak enrolment times.
For interview courses, where the student cannot do a direct enrolment, they can still pay online after they have been offered a place. – – Issues We have really had only one technical glitch, the system initially “failed unsafe” if enrolments occurred while the updating of available places from UNIT-e was in progress. That is, it defaulted to places available, when it should have shown full or busy. But this was spotted quickly and only resulted in about 20 over enrolments.
The maximum number of places for each occurrence of each course must be up to date and accurate in UNIT-e. While maximum places were already populated, it had not previously been very important, because reception staff knew the curriculum and would not over enrol courses, even if maximum places was blank or wrong. Online enrolment is not so clever! The online system is very quick to fill places for courses with heavy demand.
For example, if a student is being transferred, online enrolment would immediately grab the place when it became free, before the first student on the waiting list could be added. We operate concessionary fees by students agreeing that we can charge the full fee if they don’t produce proof that they are entitled to the reduction. This is a new way of working and procedures for charging the extra need smoothing.
In fact this issue has been more related to overseas students incorrectly paying home fees than concessions. Conclusions and recommendations: Overall, given how far ahead we seem to be and that we have not experienced the problems some other colleges appear to have had, we are well pleased. Please give our system a try – www. kcc. ac. uk – choose a course which allows direct enrolment, you can go through the entire enrolment process and just back out at the payment stage.