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by Eileen O'Loughlin,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: December 1, 2016


A well-run administration is essential to the overall quality of an educational institution. When financial operations are functioning as they should, academic leaders are able to concentrate their efforts on the ultimate goal: providing excellent services for students that help expand their horizons and lead to personal growth.

Buying dedicated software to handle the accounting side of your academic institution can help staff work to their fullest potential by automating error-prone, time-consuming tasks. All kinds of educational organizations can benefit from this software, including:

  • Private institutions
  • Public schools
  • Universities and colleges
  • School districts

We wrote this guide to help you better understand how education accounting software works and key considerations for selecting a solution.

Here's what we'll cover

What Is Education Accounting Software?
Common Features of School Accounting Software
Benefits of Education Accounting Software
Evaluating Education Accounting Software
Deployment Options

What Is Education Accounting Software?

Since the students are the benefactors of the educational system, it’s not surprising that integrating student records should be a top priority of educational institution accounting software. Consolidating these records into one centralized database minimizes confusion and allows for improvements in efficiency, avoiding cumbersome duplicates in data entry.

Along with this database, education accounting systems can track funds for school-specific procedures and considerations such as online student fee processing and registration, textbook tracking, retention rates and educational budgeting and forecasting.

In this guide, we'll cover the functionality most important to those in the education industry, as well as best practices for evaluating these solutions.

Common Features of School Accounting Software

In addition to core modules, education accounting software typically includes the following:

Student records The crucial and extensive data associated with student records requires a robust solution that integrates that information with the accounting. Grades, extra-curricular activities and class schedule can be managed within the system.
Online registration & payment A robust educational software solution will allow students and their payments to register and pay for classes online and then have registration tie directly to the student record.
Inventory & facility management Schools deal with many different kinds of inventory—from classroom, supplies and textbooks to desks, computers and sports equipment. In addition to physical assets, school buildings and property also need ongoing repairs and maintenance. Being able to track and manage all of these details helps keep tabs on school assets and prevent loss.
Fund accounting Funds are self-balancing accounts designed to record cash, related assets/balances and liabilities. Fund accounting helps educational entities track all expenditures back to specific sources, so that donations and other funds can be used for the designated purpose.
Point of sale system For items being sold on campus (i.e., meals in the cafeteria), a point-of-sale system can help you manage cash operations, improve speed and accuracy service and track sales.

Benefits of Education Accounting Software

Here are just some of the benefits your organization can realize after implementing education accounting software:

  • Lower operational costs. Some schools have particularly limited resources and can’t afford for their staff to spend time entering the same data in different systems. By centralizing information in one software, your team can create efficiencies and reduce labor costs.
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  • More accurate forecasting. Another downside of using disparate software systems is that it can lead to non-standardized data. This makes it more difficult to prepare financial forecasts and may lead to less accurate results.
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  • Greater accessibility. This benefit is especially clear for educational institutions that are buying software for the first time. If they’ve only been using manual methods up to this point, they’ll realize how much easier it is to enter, share and collaborate on accounting tasks with a dedicated digital solution. School districts that account for multiple locations and higher education academies with more than one campus will also find value in how much more accessible accounting software is compared to paper-based recordkeeping.
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  • Improved transparency. Since software gives you greater visibility into your organization’s costs and expenditures, it is easier to pass this knowledge along to stakeholders and donors. Many academic centers are nonprofit entities, so this is a particularly important benefit for them. For example, software enables administrators to generate reports that summarize how every cent of a particular grant was used, which builds trust with donors and may encourage them to make future contributions.

Evaluating Education Accounting Software

A special consideration for schools is whether or not this software is necessary. Many educational organizations operate as nonprofits and therefore need solutions for fund accounting. Self-balancing fund ledgers are appropriate for these organizations and should be a priority in their search.

When these systems, buyers should consider the following:

  • Will it have fund accounting ledgers for nonprofit organizations?
  • Can it effectively maintain a large centralized database of student records?
  • Are there convenient tools for course registration and student fee processing?
  • Are there other helpful tools, such as logging check-out of fixed assets?

Deployment Options

Now that you’ve got a good understanding of what software can do for your organization, it’s time to break down your deployment options. You have two main choices to make:

  • Subscription license vs. perpetual license: Perpetual license systems require an upfront lump sum while subscription licenses need you to make periodic payments. The amount of users may affect the system’s pricing.
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  • Cloud-based vs. on-premise: In cloud-based systems, which are also known as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), administrators don’t have to buy or maintain servers because the system is hosted remotely. This usually results in lower upfront costs. That said, some institutions may prefer on-premise systems because they are often easier to customize and they already have the IT staff to maintain the servers.

We should note that on-premise software is often licensed under a perpetual model, while cloud-based systems usually require subscription fees.

Your final choice should depend on your budget and needs. You should also take into consideration how much your institution expects to grow in the next few years. For example, if your organization currently serves elementary school students only, but you’re hoping to expand to junior high soon, it’s likely better to go for a more robust solution that can scale with you.

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