E Pluribus Unum

College of Extended Studies, San Diego State University
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Extended-learning schools are inherently more complex than traditional undergraduate programs, typical graduate programs, and professional colleges. A more varied student base has much broader goals. Most offer more distance-learning options, and students must be served equally well, whether the next town over or half a country away. San Diego State University’s College of Extended Studies, with 25,000 students, is no different. But with seven databases, three payment systems, and no “live” registration, an already complex operation became that much more difficult. “Students may have tried to enter information, staff may have tried to enter the same information,” says Associate Dean Bill Fornadel. “We couldn’t register students live, and we couldn’t process any of the payments live. All those databases created a real nightmare.”

Core team members developing the custom system included Meng Phong, Cherie Bloodworth, Bill Fornadel, and Barbara Strumsky.

To put all of that disparate information into a single, integrated platform, CES could: purchase and implement an off-the-shelf database; purchase a database and customize it; or design its own custom software/database. The college opted for Door No. 3.

“Customization really helped us because of the specific needs we had,” Fornadel says. “It enabled us to talk to the university’s databases with the live payment systems.” Working with eJungle, a locally based IT provider, CES developed a multimodule registration, operations, business, and financial database and websites to merge previous standalone databases. Students could now immediately register for, pay for, and confirm enrollment in courses, and staff got a single place to enter and display relevant course, program, and tuition information.

CESbase did more than simply consolidate data. It merged the functionality of a host of operational areas?accounting, administration, cashiering, customer relations, marketing, facilities, finances, and information technology?empowering staff across the college to engage in course design, admissions work, payments, publicity, and more. Users can now upload information into a single database and have it distributed instantaneously, reducing redundancy, staff effort, time, and errors.

Integrating many databases into one custom-built repository improved front-end as well as back-end processes.

Walk-up registration became three times faster, 350 rooms were reserved and assigned automatically based on needed size and location, and students needed just a single online application for admissions, government reporting, and housing. Reporting quickened and became paperless, and thanks to easy access to student data, marketing and communications grew more targeted and immediate.

With users beginning to work together in the central database, business practices have evolved, Fornadel says. Instead of “your own little silo meeting 100 percent of your specific needs,” needs that can be addressed are much more than a single department could do on its own. ?Thomas W. Durso