The idea of students substituting courses in a degree plan is not unheard of, but such requests must be carefully managed. Before the fall of 2011, Texas A&M University was dealing with the challenging and costly issue of processing undergraduate course adjustments within the Degree Audit office in the Office of the Registrar using a paper-based process. Requests were initiated by an advisor, then sent to the department head and dean before arriving at Degree Audit. The transition to a new student information system two years prior introduced significant changes to the entry process for adjustments, which led to a six-fold increase in the amount of time and effort required to process adjustments. “We were receiving thousands of pieces of paper a day,” says Laura Heard, assistant registrar.
Realizing a change had to be made, the Provost IT team worked closely with the Degree Audit office for six months to develop a custom solution within their SunGard Banner ERP system. “We would work for two to three weeks on a small portion of the software based on their requirements, then show them the portion we had completed,” explains Nilesh Patel, associate director of the Provost Information Technology office. “If it met their needs, we would move on to the next portion; otherwise, we’d make the changes.”
Their collaborative and innovative efforts produced the web-based Undergraduate Adjustments System (UAS).
Degree Audit used to have a steady backlog of adjustment requests that numbered into the thousands. Within two months of UAS going live, that team was able to eliminate the backlog and became current in entering adjustment requests for the first time in two years. With the old way of doing things, request processing could take up to a month, says Heard. “We can now process them within a week.”
In addition to a faster turnaround time, Degree Audit is no longer flooded with phone calls because people can track the progress of their request online, freeing those staff for other tasks.
“In the five months before UAS, it took 18 people, including 12 temp workers, in Degree Audit to complete 7,800 adjustments. Within two months after UAS, it took only three people (and no temps) to complete 3,700 adjustments with only a third of them received on paper. In stark contrast to before, this is a 616 percent increase in efficiency in terms of average adjustments completed per person per month,” relates Juan Garza, assistant vice president and director of the Provost Information Technology office. He was told it takes 15 minutes to complete a request using the new electronic system, compared to 65 minutes under the old process. The Office of the Registrar estimates that the UAS saves the university $255,659 per year by eliminating temporary staffing costs ($75,000), reducing printing costs ($659), and paying fewer hourly wages ($180,000), due to less time spent on each step of adjustments workflow.
The new system allows advisors to provide better service to students, as well. “One of my departments has 1,600 students with five full-time advisors,” says Timothy Scott, associate dean for Undergraduate Programs. “The student might see one advisor one time and a different one the next. Just keeping track of whether a request was submitted when it was paper was problematic.” With the paper-based system, there was also the risk of requests being lost along the way. Now anyone can do a name search and see what was submitted for the student.
When embarking on a custom built solution, Garza advises having IT and the business entities work collaboratively on the project. Keeping in mind the new software has to suit the needs of the end user, not IT, will result in success for everyone.