Credit Where It's Due

Office of Continuing Education at Fresno Pacific University
University Business, Jul 2011
Fresno Pacific University

Officials at Fresno Pacific University (Calif.) had quite a few reasons to take the institution’s online distance-learning registration system from an external vendor and bring it in-house: Poor customer service and high costs. Insecure and time-consuming methods of communicating with both students and instructors. Duplicate inputting of information. Manual processing of credit card transactions.

Most pressing, though, was a troublesome security breach in 2006 that involved the compromising of a group of credit card numbers.

“That was probably the major thing,” says Matt Gehrett, executive director of continuing education. “That brought it up to the point where we could get the resources of the university to focus in on it.”

In the fall of 2007, a cross-campus team representing University Communications, Information Technology, and Continuing Education gathered to develop an in-house solution. Using Microsoft Visual Studio’s ASP.net and writing in C# and VB.Net, an IT programmer developed and implemented a new online registration system, housed on an internal IIS web server.

Fresno Pacific officials cite unusually smooth cooperation as helping them to make what was a significant change. “It was a very collaborative effort on all parts,” points out Peggy Kriegbaum, director of operations. “It worked so well. No egos were involved.”

Collaboration is all well and good, of course, but a firm deadline lit a fire under the group and kept everyone focused.

Stung by a security breach and poor service, officials took back online registration and reaped benefits both hoped for and unanticipated.

“Our fiscal year runs May 1 to April 30,” Gehrett explains. “We needed to have this in place May 1 to be ready to go in the new fiscal year with changes in tuition and the like. That significant deadline really helped everyone to take this as a priority to get it done.”

Launched at the end of April 2008 solely to handle online registration, the system has evolved over time to include new capabilities. All upgrades, as well as routine changes, have been handled by Fresno Pacific’s IT staff in consultation with Continuing Education, eliminating the need for any external intervention.

“The system keeps growing as we add more bells and whistles for other audiences,” Gehrett says.

The benefits have been many. Seamless integration with the school’s student database eliminates the need to duplicate information entry, and instructors are automatically notified about class enrollments, freeing up staff for other tasks. Instructor databases and the U.S. Postal Service also are linked in, so that course materials can be sent to students automatically. Students can leave comments regarding course quality, and online instructors can submit invoices quickly and securely. And with respect to the most notable reason for switching systems, credit card transactions are now secure and automatic.

Gehrett says the time savings permit staff to audit registrations for accuracy, resolve financial account issues 50 percent faster, and address customer service issues within 24 hours. The reduction in paper use has saved Fresno Pacific more than $12,000, and phone registrations are down by three quarters.

“It has been a really strong collaboration; that doesn’t always happen naturally,” Gehrett notes. “The ability of different folks from disparate departments to come together and work on time, collaboratively, and on schedule to continue to grow it and add things has really been beneficial.”