Free systems may be enough to get you by — but are the financial savings worth it? Here’s how these platforms can cost you in other ways.
You’re likely familiar with the phrase “You get what you pay for.” And you probably have an example from your own life where that adage proved (unfortunately) true.
For me, it was when I bought $40 hiking boots and went on a week-long hiking trip through Big Bend. The day after summiting the park’s highest point, Emory Peak, I discovered I’d certainly gotten what I paid for by buying $40 hiking boots.
This same idea — you get what you pay for — applies to software.
While free software in K-12 may seem enticing, it’s important to recognize that premium systems offer distinct advantages that can greatly benefit schools and students.
Of course, if you’re a small school that can get by with free options, go for it! But as we see with our partners time and time again, a school (or district) doesn’t have to be incredibly large before you start feeling the hallmark pains of free software.
In this post, you’ll learn the ways in which you can benefit from sparing a bit of budget for premium systems — whether it’s for managing student behavior in your classrooms or managing enrollment across your school system.
1. Comprehensive Features
Premium systems typically offer a much broader range of features that go beyond basics. Features like system automation or data and analytics features are often locked on free versions.
If you’re a small school who needs classroom management software for one specific function, a free version may work for your purposes. But if you need to manage student behavior at scale and track behavior data and patterns, consider an upgrade to a platform like SchoolMint Hero.
Often, free systems are a “what you see is what you get” type of deal. Or they let you choose from a handful of customization templates that give you little room to make something truly your own (unless, sometimes, if you have coding skills of your own).
However, schools have unique requirements. Even schools within a broader charter network or traditional district can vary greatly, and so what works for District School A may not be appropriate for District School B.
Premium systems can adapt to those needs. For example, SchoolMint Enroll, the premier enrollment management software in K-12, provides customization options that allow administrators to use their specific workflows, data fields, and reporting requirements — in addition to aesthetic things, like logos and brand colors.
This is one of the biggest areas where free systems struggle to hold a candle to premium systems: scalability. And it’s a pain arguably felt most acutely in enrollment management.
Ask anyone who’s ever managed hundreds of student applications or ran multiple lotteries how overwhelming the task is without a system that can automate it all.
Now, instead of hundreds, try thousands to tens of thousands of applications — as SchoolMint’s largest district partners do each year through SchoolMint Enroll.
4. Data Security and Privacy
Amid increasing concerns about data security and student privacy in schools, premium enrollment management systems prioritize safeguarding sensitive student information. These systems implement robust security measures, including encryption protocols, user authentication, and regular data backups.
For example, with SchoolMint Enroll, we encrypt student data in transit, in use, and at rest. Additionally, SchoolMint Enroll is compliant with SOC 2, SOC 3, and FERPA.
By contrast, free systems may lack the same level of security measures — leaving schools vulnerable to devastating data breaches and privacy violations. The consequences of compromised data can be severe and impact students, parents, and the reputation of the school and its larger network.
5. Technical Support and Training
Premium systems often come with dedicated support teams that provide prompt assistance, offer exclusive customer support portals, or have ways for you to submit support tickets for issues of all complexity.
These teams can also offer ongoing training and resources to ensure you’re well-versed in their system’s functionalities and stay up to date on software updates.
Conversely, free systems usually lack dedicated or time-sensitive support, leaving schools to troubleshoot issues independently. This can be time-consuming as well as frustrating, and it may hinder effectively implementing the system — or whether you ever use it at all.
6. Long-Term Cost Considerations
In the world of student enrollment management, premium enrollment systems typically involve an upfront investment but provide substantial returns over time:
Reduced administrative workload
Improved data accuracy
Enhanced data analysis and reporting
Integration with more complex systems
While free systems carry no initial cost, they may lead to hidden costs in other ways — such as with potential data breaches, system limitations, or the need for additional resources to compensate for shortcomings (e.g., needing two different systems just to perform one action, such as manually exporting data from one platform to feed it into another for analysis or reporting).