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Common Academic Catalog Headaches and How to Solve Them

If you’re involved with producing the academic catalog for your institution, it’s likely a painstaking process if you’re still outputting a PDF or using a homegrown software solution built by your IT department.

You’re not alone. There are four common complaints heard from registrars, deans, provosts, and even marketing and IT:

1. Tracking changes from various stakeholders

It’s time-consuming to pass around Word docs and ask reviewers to track changes. Once you collect all the docs, you have to combine changes and determine which to accept, leading to confusion and errors. 

Word track changes

Group editing in the cloud in a Google Doc is another common tactic. It gives you one spot to collect real-time edits. But it may not be ideal if you don’t want everyone to see what changes are requested by their colleagues.

Academic catalog management systems have a dashboard that shows your customized workflow, tracks who is requesting what change and what stage in approvals a catalog or curriculum proposal is in. You control access to catalog and curriculum information and can adjust permissions so different people see different things.

“Since implementing an online, electronic catalog, we have been able to maintain our catalog with manageable time frames and in a manner that allows us to involve several members of the campus community in providing input and updates in a timely manner while still allowing for administrative control,” says Springfield College Registrar Keith Ingalls.

2. Making the same change throughout the catalog and wherever else it appears

Degree Planner

Some institutions have 300-plus page academic catalogs. Having multiple regional campuses with their own websites also makes it difficult to ensure consistency. If a prerequisite or course description changes in one place, it’s important that change is made everywhere it’s referenced so students aren’t using the wrong information and potentially delaying graduation.  

Academic catalog management systems that rely on data instead of a page-based layout enable you to make a change in one place and update it automatically everywhere it’s referenced. With a data-based system, you can embed course information in other department websites so it’s automatically updated without manual work on your behalf.

Purdue University transitioned to an academic catalog management system in 2016. “The biggest impact was getting to that one catalog and that one source of truth so that students knew exactly what they were expected to do for four years and faculty and staff and everyone were on the same page,” says Purdue University Assistant Registrar Kimberly Watley.

3. Long production length

academic catalog

With content and design taken into consideration, academic catalogs outputted as PDFs can take 6 months to produce. If they need to be printed, the timeline to get them done is even longer. When additional changes are made—and it always seems there’s some after the deadline—the catalog is outdated as soon as it’s printed.

Maybe you’re thinking of enlisting your IT department. A homegrown software solution may take more than a year to develop from scratch. Not only does it take a lot of time, but also takes staff away from other priorities. And, let’s face it, they may not have the expertise in academic catalogs to know what you need.

By using an academic catalog management system like DIGARC’s Acalog, you can cut the catalog production time down to as little as 3 months. With one click, you can copy, archive and publish catalogs on demand. Corrections can be made in real time—no republishing necessary.

“We’re taking a project that—I’m not kidding you—probably took us nine months from start to finish down to four to six weeks, and I would say our errors went from 90% to 10%,” says Courtney Schoolmaster, South Louisiana Community College Associate Dean of Academic Affairs.

Custom Branding

4. Matching the institution’s brand

Your institution most likely spends a great deal of time and effort maintaining your website. And for good reason. It’s reported by Ruffalo Noel Levitz that 8 in 10 prospective students judge your institution by your website.

What’s even more telling is what they’re looking for when they get there. Your academic catalog is the source of 70% of the information they’re seeking, according to a Harris Poll commissioned by New America. If your catalog doesn’t match the quality of your website, it could be hurting your marketing and enrollment efforts.

Academic catalog management systems give you a digital catalog branded like your institution’s website. They offer ways to add rich media like photos, videos and PDFs, so you can tell your school’s story, attract students and promote programs.

“When the product was delivered we were taken back. Our breath was taken away really,” says Furman University Registrar Brad Barron, who implemented DIGARC’s Acalog. “Oh my goodness, this looks better than our own website.”

Find out how you can cut your academic catalog production time and turn it into a powerful resource that engages students. Click here

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