Since students have enough on their minds already, Johns Hopkins is about to make the business end of being a student a whole lot easier.
The university is in the early stages of implementing a new Web-enabled system that effectively stores in one place the records of all current full-time and part-time students. Upon the system's full implementation, students will be able to register for classes, receive their grades and access information such as financial aid status through a single portal that is just a mouse-click away.
The massive endeavor--referred to as the Exeter Project--began in March 2001 and kicks into high gear next month as it moves toward full-scale implementation. By the time the work is completed in 2003, roughly 500 people will have been involved in the effort. The project's name is derived from the integrated software product that will run the system, Sallie Mae Solutions' Exeter Student Suite. Plans are to announce the system's official name this month.
Stephanie Reel, the university's chief information officer and vice provost for information technology, says the new system lays a "common foundation" that will vastly improve customer service and render obsolete some of the redundant information systems currently in use by the various divisions.
"Our existing legacy systems have not met the evolving needs of a modern university. They were designed for an environment that has been transformed," Reel says. "The new system will provide one-stop shopping for many of the administrative functions that a student must perform, while also providing our faculty and staff with a reliable source for student information."
The new system is divided into four "modules"--admissions, billing, financial aid and records/registration--that will be integrated by a common database and the Exeter software. Implementation of the system will be phased in, with the financial aid and admissions modules scheduled to "go live" by early 2003. The student billing and records/registration modules are scheduled to be fully implemented by July 2003.
With the new system, student information, as it's entered, will be shared across modules. For example, when a student provides his address and phone numbers to an Admissions Office, that information may be instantly viewed by Financial Aid and other offices.
Robert Evans of Hopkins ITS, who is director of the Exeter Project, says the new system will reduce or eliminate the student data errors and conflicts that intermittently crop up.
"From now on, student information will be kept in one place and common to all modules. Students, therefore, won't have to go to all the different offices to update their information," Evans says. "Exeter is essentially knocking down some of the barriers of decentralization. For example, if you want to transfer from one school to another, or take a course at a different school, you will be able to do it with a greater ease and not have to repeat all the information like we do now."
The user interface for the new system is Microsoft's Web browser application, Internet Explorer. Evans says the Exeter software, accessed by the browser, offers the capability to view student records and perform a variety of Web functions. The user can sign into the system's home page and link to all existing modules.
"Students could literally go to the Web and with the proper links look at their admissions information, look at their financial aid status and be able to register for classes," Evans says. "You as a student will be able to see all the general status information that you need to know about yourself at Johns Hopkins."
The university is in the process of determining to what level students could amend information online and who would be allowed full access to the system.
Looking ahead to the future, Evans says that Exeter software allows the university to expand student services and keep pace with other schools. As a new service is developed, having a common foundation means it can be offered universitywide with only a few modifications.
Evans says Exeter also will provide cost savings to the university because separate systems will not have to be maintained and updated. It also will reduce mailing costs.
"To inform a student about his or her status for registration, the faculty member or individual in the Registrar's Office can just fire off an e-mail to the student through the system," Evans says. "A student will get notices frequently and in a more timely fashion rather than having to wait for a paper transaction to come through."
The process of creating a new student database is both a costly and an exhaustive one, Evans says. Data needs to be moved from the old systems to the new system over many months and the data continually refreshed until everything works properly.
The implementation of the Exeter-based system is being performed by Hopkins Information Technology Services staff, representatives of Sallie Mae Solutions and staff members in every university division. The "implementation team" contains work groups on security, data access, reporting, migration, interfaces and communications.
"If you have an expertise in a certain area, it is likely that during the course of this project you will be working on Exeter," Evans says. "We are calling on the functional experts--the users--to be available for the implementation effort and to help run this project day to day."
Reel describes Exeter as an "enormous" divisionwide effort whose time has come.
"For years, our students and our faculty have been underserved by technology," Reel says. "There is still much to do, but the Exeter implementation gives us an opportunity to use technology to improve our services and extend our reach to students and potential students."