Student Information System

February 1, 2013

SIS Update #33

Dear colleagues,

Here is a brief update for you on two items along with a more substantial consideration of a critical topic:

  • User Issue Update:  Class search section display increased
  • Department and college websites need to match catalog
  • Consider please this critical topic . . .

User Issue Update:  Class search section display increased

In response to feedback from academic departments, we have increased the number of sections displayed in the online class search.  The first twenty sections now display, rather than three.  If there are more than twenty sections, one needs to click the View All to display all sections.

  Department and college websites need to match catalog

A number of departments on campus describe academic requirements for their programs on their websites.  This provides a reference that is often useful to prospective and current students.  It is important, though, that these descriptions match those that are in the university catalog, which is the depository for official university academic requirements.  When the two sources provide different information, a range of problems ensue.  Some departments link directly to the university catalog to avoid these issues.  Diane Wallace at the Registrar's Office is available to assist you in setting up a link if you'd like to take that approach.  Thanks for providing any assistance you can in verifying the accuracy of what is posted on your departmental website.

 Consider please this critical topic . . .

Our SIS exists to support your efforts to deliver curriculum to students.  More specifically, it processes information in order to allow course registration, monitoring of academic progress, maintenance of records, producing of transcripts, recording of grades, etc.  Any system, by definition, looks to apply rules to the processing of information.  When we choose to set up our academic programs in such a way that rules cannot be applied, we create what we generically refer to as "exceptions."  Some common examples of exceptions are:

  • In order to fulfill the requirements for a degree, a student needs to complete a certain number of courses that are not defined in advance but are approved at another point in time by an advisor.
  • In order to substitute a course to meet a requirement, a student needs permission of a department head.
  • In order to register for a particular course at a particular point in time, a student needs to request a waiver of a pre-requisite or co-requisite requirement.

In these cases, work is created for academic department heads, department support staff, faculty advisors, Registrar's staff, Academic Advising staff, Provost’s Office staff and, above all else, for students.  Our entire system of Student Requests has been created and is maintained to manage the many transactions that are treated as exceptions when some are, perhaps, routine.  Each year thousands of student requests are processed.  In moving from the old SIS to the new one, we have had to manually move over 50,000 exceptions that had been previously granted (and this process is not yet concluded). 

Consider this example of a rule that previously created exceptions, but was eliminated without any negative consequences.  Previously, all new students were designated by our rules as pre-majors.  Once enrolled, students needed to get departmental permission to declare in a given major.  They would get approval on a piece of paper and take it to the Registrar's Office where it was manually entered into the SIS.  A backlog ensued each fall when this happened. This was required even though there were no entry requirements for a given major.  Academic Advising consulted with departments across campus and this process was changed.  Now, new students are entered directly into their desired major (for majors where there are no admission requirements) and a large volume of work has been eliminated.

I would suggest that we need to determine whether or not there are more opportunities like this one to eliminate work.  We know that there are programs and situations where the intervention of a faculty or staff member will be required to effectively deliver a given curriculum or respond to a circumstance.  Our hope, though, is that we could limit our use of "exceptions" to those that are truly exceptional and eliminate the time and energy devoted to decisions that could be effectively routinized. 

So, are there ways that we could better use SIS to support academic programs?  Perhaps we could consider questions like these:

  • Are there requests that are made by students that are always approved?  If so, could we alter the “rules” or use the system differently so you don't need to deal with these as "exceptions"?
  • Are there courses that would be pre-approved to fulfill program requirements, rather than requiring personal approval for every student in a given program? (The list of courses could be as long as one might want, because they will be entered in the system only once . . .).
  • Are there certain course substitutions that are always approved?
  • Are there pre-requisite or co-requisite requirements that are routinely waived or no longer essential?

Joy Thorson, Graduate Programs Coordinator at the Registrar’s Office, is meeting individually with graduate program coordinators to review these kinds of questions and provide information about how SIS might better support their program needs.  Relative to undergraduate programs, if you are an academic department head and would like a small team (SIS + Academic Advising + Registrar’s Office) to visit with you or faculty to discuss how the system might best support your undergraduate programs, we’d be happy to do so.  Contact Mike Holmes at or 273-4347.

 We will be seeking to further the consideration of these ideas over time through the appropriate channels.  Please let me know if you have any initial thoughts or ideas, and thanks for taking time to read this.