Division of Information Technology Services, NorthWest Arkansas Community College

For Keeps
Honoree: 
Northwest Arkansas Community College
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New students understandably want to get going in their studies as soon as possible. So as soon as a new student’s data was recorded in SunGard Banner, its ERP system, NorthWest Arkansas Community College issued a temporary password providing access to an online portal with class information, registration capabilities, and so on.

The password was good for only 24 hours, though; after a nightly batch process, a permanent password was issued. That caused considerable confusion among new students, who often were unsure which password to use and flooded the college’s help desk with calls.

With a pending Banner upgrade, officials checked with peer institutions to see how they handled password issuance. That wasn’t much help, recalls Paige Francis, associate vice president for information technology. “At all of the schools we contacted, their students were not able to access their online environment until they received their passwords in snail mail,” she says. “We could either go ahead and do what everyone else was doing or find out a way to make the process work in our new environment.”

Seeking to implement immediate access for new students, NWACC focused on tightening up the batch process so that a permanent password could be issued right away, alleviating the need for a temporary key. Using Oracle pipe technology, Francis and her team set up a database trigger that pinged multiple programs at once, allowing for the creation and issuance of a new password as soon as new student information was entered into Banner.

The work was long and arduous—an estimated 80 hours of heavy coding—and certainly much more difficult than simply mailing paper forms to new students. But the heavy lifting up front has led to a much smoother process, Francis notes. “This is probably one of our largest and most well-received and almost lesser-known code changes we’ve made here. It definitely took a lot more time than the easy way out would have been. But it services students, and it streamlined the process. There’s no confusion—what their password is when they registered is what their password is the next day and the next day.”

In Spring 2011, Francis says, the college issued nearly 700 permanent, immediate passwords, with no errors. Student support phone calls decreased by 1,100 from the same time a year prior.

NWACC has leveraged the coding work and applied its new process to other systems. The ability to institute triggers to issue nearly simultaneous transmissions to relevant parties when certain data is recorded has allowed the college to avoid the confusion previously caused by gaps in time. For example, Francis says, “we’ve been using a lot of these workflows for notification of class drops, sending out a tailored communication to individual faculty when students drop a class. It’s really increased awareness and communication across the campus.”