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JHU SSEI Academic Advising System RFI

Here are collated responses to questions that have been asked in reference to an active RFI for an academic advising / student success and retention system from Johns Hopkins University. The RFI in question can be referenced here:

We have grouped questions from all vendors by category, and the responses are below. (If you do not see a response to a particular question below, please reach out to Kim Le).

Note: the timeline proposed on the RFI has been updated. The deadline for responses to the RFI has been extended to COB May 6th. Correspondingly, JHU will release notification to vendor finalists by June 3rd.

Questions pertaining to background and context:

Can you tell us more about the history of the RFI?

Academic advising is one of the priority functional areas identified as being within the scope of the multiyear Student Services Excellence Initiative project (more information about the history of that project is available here). In late spring 2021, a working group comprised of approximately 30 representatives from academic advising, enrollment management, student affairs and other staff from all nine divisions of JHU was formed. This working group met with SSEI once every two weeks through the course of the fall 2021 semester to examine common baseline tasks and processes; from this series of meetings we have derived this initial set of requirements.

At this stage, we have not formally evaluated any solutions. Vendor nominations were sourced from the working group as well as from market research and advice we received from consultants.

We have included degree audit requirements in this RFI, but our immediate needs concern advising and student success / retention solutions. Please connect with Kim Le for more details.

What is the compelling event driving this project?

Please see above. As part of the SSEI project, a university-wide working group was formed in Fall 2021 to assess advising technology and systems needs across divisions and programs.

What strategic challenges is JHU looking to address through this RFI and subsequent RFP? Are there specific goals JHU is looking to achieve? What are some challenges unique to JHU that you think proposing vendors should be aware of as they compose their responses? 

JHU is quite decentralized across its divisions populations, and as a result, there is a landscape of different systems that are currently employed to manage student academic data. In addition, the caseload sizes found in some of our programs are very high compared with our peer institutions (800, and in some cases, 1000 students per advisor). We are looking for technology solutions that would help us provide a streamlined and consistent academic advising experience for students and staff across the board.

Describe how JHU measures success. What metrics is JHU looking to impact with this partnership? What are the key metrics / reports you expect to be able to monitor?

JHU maintains very high retention and graduation rates (>95%) at the undergraduate level and seeks to support all students in successfully completing their UG degrees. Retention and graduation rates across our 300+ graduate programs are monitored and addressed at the program level.

Questions pertaining to academic advising functionality:

Does JHU have a desired term length in mind?
Two of our schools (Bloomberg School of Public Health, Carey Business School) operate on 8 week terms. The other schools employ semester length terms, with a few exceptions depending upon program.

What are the advising modalities that you use e.g. assigned advisors, general pool to choose from, walk-in, etc.?

Across divisions, we offer a variety of advising modalities (many have assigned advisors, some units offer a pool of advisors). Within our nine divisions, these advising modalities can vary by program and level (undergraduate, Master’s, PhDs etc). We seek a solution that is nimble enough to be configured for different advising modalities per division and program.

Are orientation and student on-boarding activities considered part of advising?

This varies across schools and student populations. For many of our undergraduate programs, new student orientation is handled by a specific team, with which academic advising works very closely. Academic advisors handle the advising onboarding process during orientation. Several graduate programs rely primarily on their professional advisors or faculty advisors to help onboard students to the university.

How are interventions currently created? How are interventions currently communicated to students? How are interventions currently communicated to staff?

Interventions are handled differently depending upon the division and program’s systems and policies. The common thread across most programs is that this process is largely done manually, heavily reliant on reporting from faculty (via email or webform submission) or low grade reports from our SIS, with some programs utilizing an early warning system (currently that is Starfish). Interventions may be communicated to students via email, by Starfish flags for those utilizing it, or by a flag on their SIS that notifies them they will need to schedule a meeting with their advisor.  For staff, this is primarily done via email. 

Students on academic probation are typically referred to their division’s version of Student Affairs / Student Outreach and Support. Some of our divisions are utilizing a separate system called Advocate to log and track outreach, meetings and other interventions. Student outreach and support staff often need to look in various systems to know who else to reach out to for collaborative support (e.g. academic advisor, financial aid advisor, etc); these systems do not currently integrate well with each other, leading to a lot of manual input and tracking.

How do students communicate with their advisors about goals that they want to accomplish?

Currently, most students communicate these during a scheduled appointment or by email.

Questions pertaining to the degree audit portion of the RFI:

What Degree Audit system, if any, is installed at JHU?

Most divisions are currently using Conclusive as a degree audit solution to some extent, although there is one program in the School of Education that is using Stellic.

The RFI focus is an advising solution, though it indicates the university is “interested in information” about degree audit/academic planner products.  Will the subsequent RFP to be issued, related to this RFI, pertain only to advising solutions? Is there an anticipated RFP later for degree audit/academic planner solutions? 

Our immediate needs pertain to advising solutions. We recognize, however, that degree audit is a major part of advising and clearing students, and critical to the function of academic advising. Our approach to an RFP and implementation will be a phased approach, with this initial round emphasizing our advising solutions needs. We are open to simultaneous implementation depending on the solution and cost efficiency.

The RFI mentions degree audit and academic planning as an ‘extension’ of the academic advising features. Is the intention here to get one wholistic solution that covers all these areas? Is JHU considering different solutions to support the advising features and the degree audit/academic planning features or is the goal to have one wholistic solution that covers all these areas?

Ideally a solution would be holistic. Our priority is making sure that whatever solution (or solutions) we adopt meet the requirements outlined by our working group. We are open to two different solutions if that is the best path forward for JHU.

Questions pertaining to implementation (logistics and strategy):

Is there a specific targeted population at JHU to be supported by the selected tool? Graduate students? Undergraduate students? Or both?

At this point we are evaluating solutions that can support all of our students, working towards JHU’s One University goal.

Is an in-house build being considered alongside vendors as a possible solution here? If not, why was the decision made to buy vs. build?

At this stage of the process, JHU is evaluating all possible solutions to satisfy the requirements gathered herein. This RFI is intended to gather more information about what is available on the market that could meet our needs, and general information about pricing.

Will you be contracting for post-implementation support separately, or do you want options to be proposed as part of this bid?

We would like options to be proposed as part of this bid.

Has a steering committee been established?

This project is under the leadership of our Student Service Excellence Project team, which was established in 2017 (more information about the project available here).  This project team reports directly to the JHU Provost, as well as a Governing Council and Executive Committee.   Regarding the Advising group, a steering committee has not yet been established, but plans are underway to set up a steering committee with broad representation including all the potential constituent types described in the RFI (faculty, students, registrars, etc). We do have a small team of reviewers in place for the initial set of responses to the RFI.

What does internal capacity and resourcing dedicated to this project look like?

JHU’s technical team will work with University’s leadership to fund and prioritize this project. Resources will be made available to address implementation needs.

Are you looking for support to help guide your internal resourcing?

Yes, we are interested. We would like to know the options and pricing involved.

Do you have a documented plan around Change Management activities with associated responsibilities? How do you plan on handling this within the organization for this project?

This project is under the leadership of our Student Service Excellence Initiative project team, which was established in 2017.  This project team reports directly to the Provost and a Governing Council and Executive Committee.  Regarding our work specific to Academic Advising, a steering committee has not yet been established, but plans are underway to set up a steering committee with broad representation including all the potential constituent types described in the RFI (faculty, students, registrars, etc). We do have a small team of reviewers in place for the initial set of responses to the RFI.

How will the RFP process be different from the RFI process?  What are some potential changes as far as requirements between the RFI and the RFP? Is it possible to award off of the RFI if a single preferred solution emerges?

For now, the University is attempting to gather as much information as possible to make an informed decision regarding next steps.  This RFI process is essentially the last stage in this information gathering process. JHU will still need to socialize these findings with all nine academic divisions to coordinate a more precise sent of requirements which would be detailed in a RFP.

Technical questions:

Can you share any more information on how your data are structured in the SIS? Is it a relational database?

Our SIS is stored in a Microsoft SQL server database, and is relational.

What systems, if any, will be replaced or eliminated with the new solution?

Starfish, which is currently being utilized in some form by 5 of our 9 divisions. There are a variety of other systems that may be impacted as we elect the best strategy for JHU going forward. Please refer to the background page of the RFI for more information about our current landscape of systems at JHU.

Should we include integration and data migration in scope? If yes, where is the data coming from? What format is the data?

The data will be coming from a variety of sources in a variety of formats. We do try to standardize where possible. With some data sources the formats are flexible. Normally, JHU’s technical team writes integrations and is responsible for data migration. Our data structure is very complex and having someone else do it may require a significant time investment for training and answering questions. Having access to vendor-provided resources in case the UIS technical team has product / software questions would be a good idea.

Can you share any more information on how your data are structured in the homegrown SIS? Is it a relational database?

Integrations: Are you currently leveraging an ETL tool?

We are not using any ETL tools with DXP or newer solutions. There are some really old apps that we support that use Microsoft SSIS.

Re: Does the application have an API or web-services? Will the integration be one direction (please specify) or bi-directional?

The current system has both: API integration and we also utilize web-services. The majority of integrations will be bi-directional, but it is also possible to have one-way interfaces.

Do you need the integration in near real time, or is a nightly, weekly or monthly update adequate?

Based on what we know now and have now, we will need to have real time (or near real time) integrations as well as nightly. Weekly / monthly updates for us are rare.

In any case, there should be an option to use real time integration with a click if necessary.

In lieu of filling out the 200+ requirements listed in the “Technical Questions, IT Security Checklist Vendor-Hopkins, IT Risk Worksheet, and IT Security Checklist” can we instead submit a HECVAT that covers these same IT and security topics? (Particularly in the case if vendors currently have an existing contract with JHU?)

For this initial round of responses to the RFI, yes this is acceptable. Any finalist under consideration will eventually need to fill out the IT Security Checklists exactly as outlined; we include these to help vendors get ahead of the process. Additionally, if a vendor has already completed these documents within two years of this response, there is no need to complete again.

Question 7.4 says: “Please describe how your reporting and analytics tools would present this data and/or exclude data from being included.” Can you clarify what you means by ‘data’?

We are referencing the data in relation to reporting and analytics. From the degree audit perspective, below are a few examples:
– requirements completion rate – be able to drill down to student level
– course demand report based on planner
– basically, be able to analyze student progress

In addition, during the course of an advising appointment, the student may elect to share information with their advisor that they would not feel comfortable sharing at large – so a solution that would be able to allow advisors to easily distinguish this information and excise from reports would be ideal.

Question 12.1 and 12.2 discusses Protected Health Information. Is there a desire to store this information about the students in this solution?  Can you provide a few reasons why that is desirable?

Question 12.3 says: “Is the system critical for patient care?” Can you explain the why behind this requirement in this RFI?  How do you foresee using a solution that is focused on student success to be used for patient care?

Any finalist under consideration must complete these questions that are required by JHU IT. Please see the response to the above question.

Is there a designated point of contact you would suggest we connect with, to better understand the requirements and the technical “how” of systems integrations?

For technical questions and considerations, our primary point of contact is Irene Zvagelsky, IT Enterprise Director, JHU University Information Systems (UIS). Please connect with Kim for contact information.

Questions pertaining to user configuration and levels of access:

Question 7.3 says: “Please describe how an organization can configure their unique training requirements for their specific populations, without impacting or being impacted by others activities/configurations within the system.” Can you clarify this requirement by giving an example of how training end-users can impact ‘other activities/configurations’ within the system?

JHU will need to have a training (or sand box) environment that can be used for testing the functionality, user training, etc. without impacting the production instance. Currently, we have 3 environments for all our systems (DEV, TEST & PROD), but having min 2 is a requirement. It is also good to know if there are system provided tools that allow to move the configuration between instances.

Do you plan on having any other faculty or staff interact with the system that are not serving in an advising role? If so, how many and what will they need to do in the system?

All faculty teaching undergraduate students should have access in order to raise early alerts.  Ideally, all undergraduate student affairs staff will have access. Some additional graduate faculty advisors will also require access.   

Do you envision the solution supporting students and staff in areas outside of academic advising at some point in the future?

Yes. Although the initial scope is addressing the needs of academic advisors and those who serve in similar capacities to support student academic management, we are hoping that this could potentially be useful for other staff as well.

Do senior leaders need access to interactive dashboards/data visualizations? If yes, how many?

Yes, this has become very important to leaders to use data visualizations and dashboards.  The number of these has not been determined at this point.  We are looking for information to understand the best practices that have been implemented at other institutions that are similar to Hopkins.

In order to provide pricing estimates, do you only want to see pricing for undergraduates or should we include the graduate students?

Please include a pricing breakdown for undergraduate and graduate students.

Can you please provide a total number of faculty and a total number of staff who will need access to the solution for pricing purposes? 

At this time I can give a rough estimate of 3,000 users who would need access to the solution, based on data extrapolated from our current student information system roles. It is likely that this number would be higher, as we are hoping to find a solution that will meet the needs of more users across all the divisions. 

We would like to understand how the pricing scales if this number increases (or decreases). Are there any discounts above a certain number of users? 

Additionally, is there different pricing for various levels of access (e.g. read-only view vs. admin)?

Questions about RFI Format and Submission:

If we decide to staff a response – are you (or someone else on the team) able to sign an mNDA before we share technical, IT, and security details?

We are extremely cautious in sharing information that contains our security safe measures for data. Would JHU accept this information via a secured box link? If not, is JHU willing to sign an NDA prior to the RFP submission deadline so that we may provide this information in a protected manner? 

Yes, we would be happy to sign an NDA prior to sharing technical, IT and security details. JHU has a standard NDA template that our Procurement office has asked us to use. For the purposes of security, we would accept this information disclosure via secured box link. If so requested, please connect with Kim Le.

According to the Instructions for Responses tab in the RFI document, “Proprietary information, if any, should be minimized and MUST BE CLEARLY MARKED. To aid JHU in our evaluations, please segregate any proprietary information.” Given the excel format is very proscriptive on where specific information should be placed. How would JHU recommend that vendors separate proprietary information from the remainder of the response? 

Proprietary information can be submitted separately via secured box link, and referenced on the Excel sheet (e.g. “see attachment”). Given this and the question below, to simplify matters, vendors can elect to identify their entire worksheet response as containing proprietary information.

Along these lines, for the IT Security Checklist, given we are extremely cautious in sharing information that contains our security safe measures for data, would JHU accept identification this entire worksheet as containing Proprietary Information, given this information, as part of its own tab, is already segregated from the rest of the tabs of the RFI response?

Yes, that is acceptable as per the answer above.

Can JHU clarify how they would like firms to respond to the greyed out “user perspectives” in the beginning of the General System Information category in the Advising Solution Questions tab? Should firms simply address the relevant user perspectives as prompted in other categories (Advisor Dashboard, Early Warning System, etc.) within this tab? 

Yes, please disregard the greyed out boxes and address relevant user perspectives as prompted in other categories. The intent was to introduce these perspectives for reference throughout the document, but this did not read very clearly (apologies for the confusion).

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