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Computerizing Graduate Student Records at a Large University This document was contributed by the named author(s) to the CAUSE

Information Resources Library. It is the intellectual property of the author(s). Permission to copy or disseminate all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage, that the title and author are identified, and that notice is given that this document was obtained from the CAUSE Information Resources Library. To copy or disseminate otherwise, or to republish in any form, requires written permission from the author. For further information: CAUSE, 4840 Pearl East Circle, Suite 302E, Boulder, CO 80301; 303449-4430; e-mail info@cause.colorado.edu. COMPUTERIZING GRADUATE STUDENT RECORDS AT A LARGE UNIVERSITY ABSTRACT A large university's graduate student databases for registration and admissions were converted from a manual system to a computerized system. Programming was designed to interface with existing computer databases and to allow student processing to be handled more efficiently. The outcome has met all expectations. COMPUTERIZING GRADUATE STUDENT RECORDS AT A LARGE UNIVERSITY Texas Tech University, located at Lubbock, Texas, is a large doctorate-granting institution that until recently maintained graduate student records manually. The University's enrollment is approximately 25,000, of whom 4,000 are graduate students. Nearly 5,600 students are enrolled in the Graduate School over the course of any one year (amounting to a total of 12,000 registrations for long semesters and summer sessions). Over 900 master's degrees and 150 doctorates are awarded at Texas Tech University each year, exclusive of law degrees. In 1993-94, 21,766 graduate admissions records were processed. Of these, 2,919 applications were accepted, 1,362 were denied, 2,112 were in various stages of completion by the end of the year, 15,161 represented prospects, and 133 were withdrawn, while 79 individuals canceled their acceptances. (An applicant is counted when he or she applies to enter a graduate program or requests application materials. Students who change graduate programs are counted again at the time of the application for change.) For more than ten years the university used computer systems that were designed to fit the needs of a midsize undergraduate university rather than those of a large university with graduate programs. Information was entered into the Student Information Systems (SIS) provided by Information Associates (IA). The System includes the

Student Records System (SRS), Admissions Management System (AMS), Bursar's Records System (BRS), and Financial Aid Management System (FAMS). The SIS programs were written in IBM OS/VS COBOL, 1974 ANSI Standard, with file handling done by IBM's Virtual Sequential Access Method (VSAM), released in the early 1970s. The SIS are accessed through terminals and PCs hardwired into an IBM mainframe ES/9000 model 521 running on the MVS/XA operating system, recently upgraded to the MVS/ESA operating system. The University's Administrative Information Systems (AIS) staff programmed enhancements to the SIS over the years to make the systems more responsive to the needs of undergraduate programs. The Graduate School, however, with needs quite different from those of the undergraduate portions of the University, did not benefit from the enhancements. Each university, because of individual needs and circumstances, will approach the process of computerization in a unique manner. Dickinson and McCormick (1993) discuss the process of moving away from paper documents to images stored in computers, one of the issues many other universities will be facing over the next few years. The various facets of implementing a new computer information system that encompasses an entire university (Colorado State University) are detailed by Dawe and Cermak (1993). Steinich and Beecham (1993) discuss the design of their graduate records system at the University of Wisconsin and the rationale behind it; that system is not part of an integrated university student information system. This paper describes how Texas Tech University's Graduate Admissions and Graduate School offices were computerized and how graduate student data were integrated into the system without disturbing the procedures in place for the university as a whole. Prior to the Graduate School's computerization, the Graduate Admissions staff was required to prepare for each applicant a paper file that included application, transcripts, and standardized test scores. Applicant files were sent to the relevant departments for acceptance or rejection. After the Graduate Advisor of the department and the Dean of the Graduate School concurred on the disposition of an application, the student was sent an admission or rejection letter and, at that time, data for accepted students were entered into the AMS so that a registration record could be created on the SRS. However, student progress toward degree still had to be tracked manually. In the past 12 years, graduate enrollment at Texas Tech University increased by about one-third. The workload in the Graduate School Dean's office increased almost exponentially and, with manual record-keeping, it was frequently necessary for staff members to take work home. No more than one person at a time could work on a student file, and the possibility of loss was a continuing concern. A mislaid file could tie up hours of staff and faculty or

student time. Because of the backlog of work, the clerks charged with oversight of graduation requirements and approvals were unable to finish work connected with one semester's graduates until midway through the next semester, cutting into time needed to check the status of current graduating students. In fall 1989 an Associate Dean for Admissions and Information Systems was named, with primary responsibility for preparing specifications and working with systems programmers of AIS to design computerized systems for Graduate Admissions and for tracking enrolled graduate students. At that time most deans and staffers were not able to access SIS because the Graduate School and Graduate Admissions had only a few terminals and only one IBM PC. In discussions with the central administration, it was decided to create a Graduate Records System (GRS) and a Graduate Admissions System (GAS) that would be part of the central SIS databases maintained by the University Computing Facilities (UCF) staff. To access the system, professional and secretarial members of the Graduate School and Graduate Admissions staffs would be equipped with IBM-compatible PCs with word-processing software and 3270-emulation hardwired to the central IBM mainframe computer. It was determined that GRS, which would have a more immediate positive impact, should be implemented first. In the interim, applications to the Graduate School would be processed using the computer on an ad hoc basis, building on the procedures of Undergraduate Admissions whenever possible-only a short-term solution, because TTU's Undergraduate Admissions procedures do not involve departmental input nor the many sets of international credentials evaluated by Graduate Admissions. Additionally, Undergraduate Admissions has a relatively liberal admissions policy, whereas graduate programs, with varying criteria, are necessarily more selective. The first step in creating the GRS was perhaps the most beneficial in terms of quality management. The staff and the deans examined and evaluated every policy stated in the Graduate Catalog, every University Operating Procedure concerning graduate faculty or students, and every form used by the Graduate School. Policies of 20 and 30 years standing were changed to reflect current demographics and technology. Outmoded requirements were dropped, while others, such as those for candidacy and residency, could be tightened because of the increased ability to track student progress. As duplication was eliminated, forms were shortened and combined. Procedural changes were implemented as they were developed. System specifications, based on the evaluations, were drawn up over a period of months. Thousands of paper files with admissions information on students who had attended for only one or two semesters or summer sessions (many of whom had not been admitted to degree programs) were purged, along with all files that contained only admissions data on students who had not

attended classes during the previous three years (permanent academic records remain in the Registrar's files). It was decided that non-degree students would not be entered into the new degree audit and tracking system. Because non-degree students have no home departments, no graduate advisors, no programs of study, and no academic or research support, no academic college or department needs to track their progress. Non-degree students would be listed on the SRS that generates enrollment information and transcripts, but their courses and grades would not interface with the GRS. The project was given high priority by the AIS Priority Committee, and a programmer was assigned to the GRS project in early 1991. Her task was to program a subsystem of SRS tailored specifically to fit the needs of TTU's Graduate School offices, with screens that could be accessed directly from SRS. The new system was to be based on existing procedures used at Texas Tech University in processing graduate student files, with the added advantage of allowing computerized tracking of student progress toward the graduate degree. Under the new system, at the time a student was admitted to a master's or doctoral program a computer record containing essential information (including previous degrees, GPAs, catalog year, etc.) about the student would be created. Records would allow both GRS master's and GRS doctoral listings, because many students pursue both degrees at the institution. For efficiency, and because the Graduate Council does not encourage pursuit of a second master's degree, provision was made for listing records for only one master's. However, a second master's can be recorded after the first one is completed, replacing the first one if necessary. This portion of the AIS project took slightly less than a year to complete. As the GRS project neared completion, it became evident that, for personal reasons, the programmer assigned to the project would not remain at the university long enough to complete the GAS project also, and a new programmer was assigned to evaluate Graduate Admissions procedures. At that time there was an opportunity to write the new GAS in Natural V2.2, using IBM's DB2 V2.3. Some advantages cited for using Natural V2.2 were that it is easier to program and to use in implementing enhancements. Main objectives in creating the new system were to provide the office staff and departmental advisors quick access to data about individual applicants and students, and to facilitate preparation of reports about students. With the computerized system in place, pop-up windows with information about applicants' files would be available, in addition to voluminous on-line help facilities (particularly valuable for graduate advisors and their secretaries, who would be allowed read-only access to all data). Although training the programmer in Natural would delay the start of the project by six months, the overall time to

complete the project would be about the same as if COBOL were used, and it was decided to use Natural. Between February and November, 1992, the programmer learned Natural and programmed the initial phases of GAS. Over a weekend in December, GAS was installed, replacing the Graduate Admissions portions of the old AMS. The capabilities for entering the data needed, in the order needed, with "pop-up" reminders as required, were in place. In the ensuing time various enhancements required in the specifications were added, as well as a number of functions whose need became evident only after the system had been in use for a time, including various letters and reports. Users' manuals for GRS and GAS prepared for use in departmental offices recently were revised and included in an expanded graduate advisors' manual. At present no application must wait for more than 24 hours for the next step in processing. The only delays occur because campus mail takes a day to move materials to or from a department, and because department admissions committees often have difficulty in meeting often enough. Although the number of graduate applications has increased, the processing time has decreased significantly, and the staff is now able to handle the workload at a reasonable pace. Twelve separate form letters for students admitted to degree programs can be personalized and generated on the GRS. Six of the letters are combined in a graduation packet generated by the computing center and sent to each student who has indicated an intention to graduate in that semester. Other letters are: admission to candidacy, deficiencies for candidacy, appointment of thesis or dissertation committee members (to avoid confusion with similar names, the program searches the university's payroll file for name, official title, and identification number), and three probation and suspension letters. The diploma list and program for commencement are prepared directly from GRS (saving many hours of typing and proofreading) and transmitted to the Registrar or the university press by e-mail. Grades are posted on degree plans and degrees are posted on transcripts automatically by one transaction each semester. Approximately 1100 personhours are saved each semester by using computer-generated letters, reports, and postings. Applicants now can be tracked automatically. Computer records indicate which staff member processed which portions of a file, along with the time and date. With GAS, a number of letters can be generated automatically (such as letters to persons who have submitted high GRE or GMAT scores but have not yet applied, and letters informing people that their files are complete and have been sent to departments for action). In addition, routine correspondence, such as admissions and rejection letters, can be generated, with the option of including "standard" acceptance conditions (which interface with GRS) or nonstandard "once only" paragraphs.

A variety of reports can be generated, including the Admissions Candidate Status Report, with information about prospective students, that is mailed to each department approximately twice a month. Status reports are generated by the Graduate Admissions staff using menus in the GAS system, although the reports are run in the WYLBUR or DB2 systems. The most popular report is the Degree Plan Summary (Figure 1 not available in ASCII version), which is requested by a great many students and advisors each semester. This report summarizes all the data available from the GRS on a given student, including academic deficiencies. Advisors request several at a time (sometimes for the department's entire graduate roster) and can receive them the next day through an overnight batch run. Mailing labels for catalogs and applications are generated at the time information about a prospect is entered into the system. Labels are printed in zip-code order when enough have accumulated to permit a bulk mailing. The system allows for maintenance of permanent catalog mailing lists and for the performance of a variety of customized tasks on an ad hoc basis., including preparation of reports needed for accrediting agencies. Initial hesitancy by the staff has all but disappeared. A few workers feared they could not master the system or that data would be "lost in the computer." Some were overwhelmed by the thought of transferring data from 3,000 index cards to GRS (the transfers were accomplished as student files were processed for graduation). However, familiarization with the system increased satisfaction with its operation. Popular features are ease of data entry, provision for simultaneous access to the same data by several workers, and prompt, on-line reporting during the crucial end-of-semester crunch. Feedback from departments indicates that since computerization the offices of Graduate School/Graduate Admissions are providing better service to applicants, enrolled students, and the university community. In the near future, it should be possible to provide more interaction with graduate advisors by e-mail, perhaps including initial applicant approval and degree plan and course change approvals, and to handle applications submitted electronically. Moreover, the University currently is exploring options to upgrade its SIS and to add image-processing capabilities. Since the Graduate School has been in the forefront of innovation within the University the past few years, its representative, one of the authors, has been asked to play a major role in developing specifications and overseeing the project, which hopefully will allow us to add a few more enhancements to our systems without losing any of the existing functionality. Our experiences have been discussed informally at various graduate school forums throughout the United States and have met with repeated positive feedback.

REFERENCES Dawe, R., & Cermak, R. (1993). Right sizing a mainframe administrative system using client/server. _CAUSE93_. CAUSE: The Association for Managing and Using Information Technology in Higher Education, Boulder, CO. Dickinson, K., & McCormick, P. (1993, May). Moving toward a paperless workplace at the University of Michigan. _CUMREC93: 38th Annual College and University Computer Users Conference_, Baylor University, Waco, TX. Steinich, D., & L. Beecham. (1993, May). Graduate school degree and satisfactory progress tracking system. _CUMREC93: 38th Annual College and University Computer Users Conference_, Baylor University, Waco, TX.