Populi

Upgrades to official transcript requests

After releasing transcript requests a few weeks ago, we heard a lot of good ideas from our customers about how we could round out the feature. So last night we released a bunch of handy upgrades to official transcript requests:

  • Students who aren’t in Populi (say, a 1960’s-era alum whose transcript has to be mimeographed) can now request and pay for an official transcript. You can fulfill the request outside Populi, but then keep a record of the request and its completion—even if the student himself isn’t in Populi at all.
  • Custom delivery methods let you handle “rush” requests. Just create a delivery method and tie it to a fee rule—and now you can properly charge for that transcript the student needs to be overnighted to Stockholm University.
  • Web transcripts are now disabled when the student has a grade/transcript or financial lock. There’s also an access counter in the export history so you can see how many times they’ve been downloaded.
  • The request detail page now shows you any locks and outstanding financial balances that might make you want to not complete the request. It also has a new cancel/refund function for credit card charges.
  • You can embed the request form within another web page and use custom CSS to make it match.
  • A new academic setting lets you customize the email that’s sent when a transcript request is fulfilled.

Get all the details in the Populi Knowledge Base!

Official transcript requests and an interface change

After announcing transcript requests about a month ago, we quickly realized that we needed the feature to do a better job handling requests from former students and others who don’t have a Populi login. So, when the feature is released tonight (October 11), it will include a public-facing form that lets people submit official transcript requests.

Here’s how it works:

  1. In Transcript Requests > Settings, you enable the public transcript request form.
  2. You can then link to it from your website or pass the URL along to your former students who need an official transcript.
  3. The requester goes to the form and enters her last name, SSN or SIN , and date of birth. Populi uses this information to match the requester to one of your student records (we can’t have Jane Smith ordering a transcript for the other Jane Smith, now can we?).
  4. Once matched with a student record, the requester enters the request details (recipient, etc.) and pays for it by credit card (depending, of course, on your payment settings).
  5. The request enters the queue in Academics > Transcript Requests, where you can review it and fulfill it.

To learn all there is to know about Transcript Requests, have a look at the Populi Knowledge Base!

Arrivederci, action gear

With this release we’re also loading the Profile’s gear onto the funeral pyre and putting a lit torch to it. In its stead: a new menu icon, together with context-specific actions links.

What this means:

  • The action gear  is gone! Here’s the new menu icon, located just above where the gear used to live: 
  • The menu icon contains everything the gear used to give you on Profile > Info: Export ID Card, Reset Password, etc.
  • The context-specific actions formerly contained in the gear have moved into the individual views in the Profile. So, you’ll see Record Payment and Print Statement (etc.) in Profile > Financial > Dashboard. You’ll see Export Schedule, etc. in Profile > Student. And so on.

We fully appreciate that everyone clicks the gear a zillion times a day, and us changing a much-used feature will initially be very annoying. We understand! That said, the new design makes the previously-hidden actions easier to find, and the menu icon now consistently shows you the same group of actions wherever you are on the profile. It’s more consistent and makes more sense than the old layout, and it clears the way for us to make additional improvements on the Profile.

A few other behind-the-scenes improvements will go out with this release, which we’ll describe in our Release Notes this Friday (have you subscribed to those yet?). Of course, if you have any comments or questions about the updates, we’re eager to hear from you.

Coming soon: official transcript requests

Coming soon: official transcript requests! While our crack coders apply the finishing graces to them, we thought we’d give you a preview of the upcoming features.

Your students will soon be able to request an official transcript right from their Profiles. Their requests will be queued up in the new Transcript Requests view in Academics; from there you can review and fulfill them with a few quick steps. Here’s the whole story:

1. Setup

First you’ll configure a few transcript request settings.

  • Delivery methods include print/mail and email. You can offer one or the other—or both.
  • Do you charge for transcript requests? You’ll choose a fee and optionally set up fee rules to cover particular kinds of requests—for example, you charge one amount for a printed transcript, and another for an emailed one. You’ll also have the option to not charge.
  • Charge for requests either by charge-to-account or by having your students cough up a credit card number upfront.
  • In general academic settings, you can enable web transcripts (more below).
2. Students submit requests

After you’ve enabled official transcript requests, a student will go to his Profile > Student view. From the new Transcript Actions button, he’ll select Request Official Transcript. After entering information about the recipient and handling your payment arrangements, he’ll submit it.

3. You fulfill the request

You’ll find all of your students’ requests on the new Transcript Requests view. To fulfill a request, you’ll go to the request’s info page. There, you’ll choose a layout for the transcript, preview the document, and take care of the delivery details—emailing the web transcript link or printing a mailing label for a paper copy.

Web transcripts and a few interface updates

A few new items accompany transcript requests. The aforementioned web transcripts create a unique URL from which an up-to-date PDF transcript can be downloaded. This is handy for when you email a transcript link in March while the student’s Spring courses are still in-progress—come June, after they’re all finalized, the transcript recipient can just visit the URL to see how the student fared that semester. Once you enable web transcripts, every transcript you export will contain its own unique URL in the footer.

We’ve also placed the utilities gear onto the funeral pyre. We’ll replace it with action links and the new Transcript Actions button; the gear on the Profile > Info view shall meet a similar fate.

We’re pretty excited to get Transcript Requests out to all our customers. They’ll replace some pricey standalone transcript request services some schools are using. And as with all new Populi features, they won’t require any software integrations or other wiring-together. Just set ’em up and let ’em rip.

Stripe ACH Rate Change

Populi recently participated in a beta version of Stripe.com’s ACH product which allows many of our colleges* to easily accept tuition payments and donations at a much lower rate (0.5% + 25¢) than credit cards (2.9% + 30¢).

Stripe recently brought their ACH features out of beta and published new pricing. So, as of August 1st, 2016, we’re pleased to announce a major rate decrease for larger transactions! The new rate is 0.8%, with a 25¢ minimum transaction fee and a $5 maximum transaction fee.

For small transactions this new rate may be slightly higher, but for larger transactions it’s a huge cost savings. For example, for a $5,000 tuition payment:

Old rate:
$5,000 * 0.5% + 25¢ = $25.25

New rate:
$5,000 * 0.8%, with a 25¢ minimum and $5 maximum = $5

Either rate represents a substantial savings compared to credit cards (accepting a $5,000 credit card payment via Stripe would cost your school $145.25), but in this example your college would now pay one fifth of the old ACH rate!

We’re confident this price change will allow more of our clients to benefit from the convenience of accepting online payments and donations, without the substantial fees associated with credit card transactions.

*Because of regulations regarding the ACH network we’re not able to offer this service to all colleges; typically only to established, accredited colleges. Please contact support to see if your college qualifies.

Localization: now you can translate Populi into other languages

New in Populi: localization. Localization lets you translate the various interface elements—text, buttons, links, and so on—so your non-English-speaking users can access Populi in their own language. Here’s how it works:

1. Go to the new Localization view in Account

Your school’s Populi account administrator goes to the new Localization view in Account > Account Settings. He’ll name the localization and select the language to which Populi will default for untranslated words. Finally, he’ll choose a flag to go along with the translation.

2. Start translating

The translation section is straightforward: find the base text on the left, enter translations on the right. You can translate Interface Text (every field, button, column heading—everything that we’ve given a name to) as well as your own text (application field names, tuition schedules, and so on). As you translate, Populi saves your entries automatically.

3. Continue translating

I’m not gonna lie to you: it’s gonna take awhile! There are around half a zillion named things in Populi, and the developers are adding more all the time. If need be, you can just translate certain areas of Populi—for example, translate courses and financial info so foreign students can take classes and pay their bills.

4. Assign locales

Once a localization is completed (or complete enough for your needs), you can set up individual users so that they’ll see the translated version of Populi when they log in. All you need to do is click the flag icon below a person’s profile photo, select the locale, and click ye olde Save button (you can do this for yourself, too!). The localization will take effect immediately.

We’re really pleased to get this out to all of our customers. Many schools have been using Populi to serve international students—conducting courses in German, for example, or setting up applications in Portuguese. Localization lets you complete the experience for your non-English speaking users.

One caveat: worldly and seasoned as we are, we remain unrepentant English-speakers here (a few of us know a little Latin and Greek), and new development will remain in English. So, when we develop new features or heavily rewrite existing ones, you’ll need to update your translations. Likewise, we’ll also conduct customer support in English and we’ll have to assume you’re asking about Populi as we wrote it (not as you may have translated it). If you’ve translated every instance of the phrase “Academic Term” to “Melon Baller”, understand that we probably won’t know what you’re talking about when you write in with a problem on the Melon Baller report.

That said, we look forward to seeing what you’ll do with localization!

Your data is yours

Your data is yours. We really mean it.

Let’s say you want to stop using Populi and you need your data imported into another system. Populi lets you download your core data once every 24 hours from Account > Backups. The backup file includes:

  • Academics—everything from transcripts to transfer credits, from course lessons to the course catalog
  • Financial transactions—invoices, payments, financial aid, and donations
  • Admissions applications and all the information you have for your leads
  • All the people in your system together with all their contact and other personal info
  • Your entire Bookstore and Library

Here’s how you (well, your school’s account administrator) can get your data out of Populi:

1. Go to Account > Backups

After logging in, click Account and then go to Backups. If it has been more than 24 hours since your school last retrieved this file, you can click Request a Backup.

2. Confirm

Before creating the backup file, Populi asks you to confirm that you want to do this. Remember: this file contains a bunch of sensitive data—academic records, financial information, Social Security numbers, and a lot more! You’ll want to take special care with this file, and this confirmation is one part of that.

3. Wait and download

The backup file can be pretty big and so it may take a little while to generate it (up to several hours). The moment the file is complete, Populi sends you an email. Once you receive the email, go to Account > Backups and download the file.

(You can also use the API to download data backups—see the API documentation for details)…

And that’s it! The backup file with all your Populi data is in your hands, no strings attached. You can keep your own secure backups (in addition to ours) or load it into your school’s new system… or whatever else you might need.

We’ve worked with a lot of schools that needed to get their legacy data from their old system. Many software companies really made them work for it. Some didn’t provide backups in the first place—they had to improvise a way to extract the data from their system. Others provided data that was missing crucial items (transfer credits, anything entered before 1996, you name it). Some had “business” in mind and charged schools to retrieve their data. One avaricious outfit compels their schools to sign another year-long contract!

Lock-in tactics range from the lazy to the vile. Our business plan—no long-term contracts, month-to-month billing, customers can cancel any time—means we have to win back all our customers every month. Free, no-strings-attached, comprehensive data backups mean we’ve made it easy to leave, and that we’ve got work to do if we want you to stay.

Update (June 8, 2016)

We’ve been asked about how the backups you can download relate to the regular data backups we already perform. Here’s the low-down:

  • There are two kinds of backups: Customer-requested, which are what is described above; and our Regular backups, which we automatically perform on an ongoing basis.
  • Regular backups are securely stored in a separate location and are meant to restore your data in case of emergency and provide historical data “snapshots” for various uses. Customer-requested backups are meant for your own needs and uses.
  • We perform these backups as follows: Hourly backups for 36 hours, daily for two weeks, weekly for 30 weeks, and monthly for 10 years. Each backup is a complete copy of everything in your Populi database; there are up to 200 backups per customer.
  • Think of it like an actively-curated photo album: At any given moment, this photo album contains 36 pictures of the last two days, 14 of the last two weeks, 30 of the last 30 weeks, and 120 of the last ten years. As time moves on, a portion of your older snapshots are deleted, but new ones are always being added.
  • We keep your data around as long as you’re a customer; if you cancel your use of Populi, we delete your archived data after 90 days.

Soft credits for donations

You can now link people to donations using a soft credit. A soft credit lets you acknowledge someone for a donation besides the actual donor. For example, a wealthy tycoon donates $50,000 to your scholarship fund and you want to make sure that when you thank him, his wife is included in the acknowledgement. Or a donation comes in from a local corporation thanks to the efforts of a graduate who now works there—you can now give her the soft credit for the donation. Soft credits are awarded on a donation page right below where you link the donation with the donor. The Donors report and its communication actions have been updated to respect soft credits as well.

This was one of our customers’ top requests for Populi Donations, and we’re very pleased to get this out to everyone.

Bookstore returns, discount codes, and other good stuff

Populi Bookstore has a bunch of great new features this morning. As part of a general rewrite, we gave Bookstore improved return/refund processing, discount codes, and better inventory management (plus lots of interface improvements and upgrades). Here’s  a look at the new stuff:

Returns and refunds

Bookstore now makes it easy to process returned items and refunds (let’s be honest: it was not easy before). Returns are handled in Point of Sale: just click Return Items, scan or search for the items to return, and connect the returns to the original order. You can handle the entire refund right there, too: just pick your refund method from the drop-down (you can even refund to a student account) or use the refund to reduce the amount of a new purchase. Bookstore now also handles credit card refunds—it contacts your processor and reverses the charge without you having to do anything.

Discount codes

Discount codes let you offer your customers price breaks on items and shipping costs. You can specify a dollar or percent discount, whether the code applies only to certain items or customer types, minimum order amount, expiration dates, and more. Codes can be applied by customers at the online checkout or by you at Point of Sale. So now you can offer, say, free shipping on all online orders over $50, or give faculty and staff a 10% employee discount on books and apparel.

Inventory improvements

Bookstore now features a number of improvements to inventory management.

  • Each item segment now has better inventory tracking. Inventory batches let you record when you received a new shipment and the cost-per-item. Adjustments let you correct inventory for things like loss/damage or clerical errors. Each sale and return is also figured in so you know for sure what’s in stock.
  • The new Inventory tool in Admin lets you add inventory batches for any item, while the Returned Items report lets you manage which returned items go back to your stock and which are counted as shrinkage.
  • On the accounting side, new settings let you specify your inventory cost flow method (FIFO or LIFO) as well as accounts for purchases, shrinkage, and COGS.
  • Of course, all those lovely reports have been updated to take all the new data into account.

We’re really happy to get these Bookstore improvements out to our customers. They give you more control over your inventory, make everyday tasks easier for your Bookstore staff (and your school’s accountant), and let you offer even more to your customers.

For more details, have a look at the Populi Knowledge Base.

Library shelf view

Also new in Populi: Library Shelf View. Shelf view shows you what’s in the physical vicinity of the resource you’re currently looking at. Just scroll to the bottom of any resource page and there you’ll see it; click the left/right arrows to wander your way through the library shelves. The view is ordered by call number and makes it easy to discover resources you might not have thought to search for.

Texting everywhere!

There are a lot of new buttons and links in Populi today, and just about all of them say… Text.

Texting is now almost as common in Populi as email. Formerly, it handled emergency notifications and password retrieval for staff and faculty (of course, it still does that!). Now, it does a lot more. Need to tell a prof’s students that he’s out sick and class is canceled? Text his students right from the course roster. Wanna send a quick thank you to your $100-$250 donors? Use the Text donors button in the Donations report. Have an accepted applicant you want to tell the good news? Now you can send her a text right from the accept application dialog.

The new features give your admissions staff swifter ways to communicate with leads. When an inquiry or applicant fills out the initial form, they can verify their mobile/text number on the spot. You can then respond to their questions via text, and they can reply in turn. And when you accept an applicant, you can import her verified number right into her profile.

We want to make communication at your school as friction-free as possible, and we’re really pleased to give you these new texting features. If you’d like to get your Populi user account set up to receive text notifications from your school, read this article. And if you want to keep an eye on how many texts your school has sent so far this month, have a look at Communications > Campus Notifications (remember that additional texts are 2¢ each).