Y2K was an important consideration in replacing the University's 23-year-old student records system, but by no means the only one, says University Registrar Peter DeBlois. The system was a patchwork of files and databases created over the years to serve particular needs. The new student records system is one component of a larger system, called PeopleSoft, that also encompasses human resources and payroll, the bursar's office, and financial aid. Each component is linked through a shared database. For example, the registrar's office would not need to reenter such basic information as name and address for an SU employee taking classes.
The most visible part of the student records system, and the first to come online, is student registration. "Prior to 1983 we had what was called arena-style registration," DeBlois says. "We would put the entire main campus student bodyabout 15,000through Archbold Gym over an intensive and rather formidable two-day period, just before a semester began. It was a challenge for students to try to build a full-time schedule." With computer punch cards in hand, students would brave long lines to meet with representatives from departments of the various schools and colleges. DeBlois says the Steele Hall registration center, established in 1983, dramatically changed the experience. "A student would come to the center at a designated time and work one-on-one with a registrar's representative to build the schedule from a set of approved course choices. That had a number of advantages apart from the more personalized experience for the student. It gave students and academic departments some breathing room to plan for course offerings, have sufficient time for advising, and gauge where the demand was."
The introduction of the PeopleSoft system dramatically changed the process again, with telephone and web-based registration replacing the Steele Hall center. "Even though for the past 15 years it was a more personalized experience, there were still times when lines went out the back of Steele Hall," DeBlois says. "The reality of registration has always been that there will be closed courses and students will need alternatives, or to get permission and waivers from the departments. Those are handled more efficiently now via the web and telephone." The old center handled 20 students at a time; now, more than 100 web users and up to 30 telephone registrants can simultaneously access the new system. And while the center was only open during business hours, the new system is available from 7 a.m. to midnight during the week, and from 10 a.m. to midnight on weekends.
Despite glitches and some system crashes, DeBlois says, the transition went remarkably well. Some problemssuch as courses closing before a student can registerpersist, but these are independent of the mode of registration. "For all the bells and whistles of this client-server technology," he says, "registration ultimately comes down to good advice and good information on both the student's and faculty advisor's parts. And that was true even back when we had the old system of arena registration in Archbold."
Ware says a small number of systems remain on the University's mainframe computer. In some cases, it was more cost-effective to rewrite the programs, making them Y2K compliant. Others are awaiting manufacturers' fixes, and will be extensively tested on a mainframe computer set up for that purpose in Massachusetts. Ware and his staff will be in the office January 1. "I'll be looking on the Internet to see what's happening all over the world," he says. "And my staff will be there running systems to see where the problems are. It's unrealistic to think that any large organization will see no Y2K problems. We don't think they'll be serious, but there will be a period of time when they're a noticeable nuisance. Once we've seen and fixed them, the problems will go away."