The piece of paper. That’s what students are shooting for—a diploma, the tangible proof that they’ve met all requirements, completed the courses they had to complete, and graduated.
Who wants to wait for that?
University of Wisconsin-Stout graduates didn’t have any choice.
“Initially, we were reviewing graduates manually by running a degree audit and reviewing it individually to determine whether they met all the requirements and then awarding the degrees individually,” recalls assistant registrar Josh Lind. “We did that for each student who had applied to graduate.”
That process could take weeks. And things got even more complicated when it came time for the university to figure out which students were graduating with honors. Many Stout students are transfers, but the school’s student information system did not include the GPAs from their prior institutions, a figure needed to calculate overall GPA, which determines honors.
Wisconsin allows 45 days following the end of the term for schools to award degrees, and Stout took full advantage, Lind admits. “There had been a culture of utilizing that full time period. But we got so many calls and questions—‘Where’s my diploma?’ ‘Have I graduated?’—[that] we needed to get a more efficient process.”
Stout’s solution was to take its student information system, PeopleSoft from Oracle, and delve more deeply into its capabilities.
“Josh really leveraged what we had,” notes Scott Correll, university registrar.
PeopleSoft’s batch process allowed Lind and his colleagues to run all degree audits simultaneously and electronically—a huge improvement over the manual pencil-and-paper process they had been using. They designed one query to integrate transfer GPAs into overall GPAs, streamlining the honors designations, and another to call out students who have met their degree requirements, allowing them to award diplomas the same week. A third query, run after diplomas are sent out, allows staff to quickly check for new grades and grade changes for those students who have not met the requirements.
Under the old system, two staff members worked for two weeks hand-calculating student records. Through the more robust use of PeopleSoft, the records of 1,500 graduates per year can be processed in five minutes, and nearly two-thirds of diplomas are awarded within four days of grades being entered. Checking for grade changes has been reduced to a two-minute process. Prior to that, Stout officials say, they graduated students evenly over the 45-day reporting period.
That improvement in efficiency is more important than you might think, notes Lind. “This could be the last experience they have with Stout as a student. We want that experience to be a good one. That we can do this with few hiccups and get it done quickly and accurately is a bonus toward forging that good relationship.”