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New student information system caps four-year design effort

Vice President for Administration James J. Culliton has announced the implementation of the new MIT Student Information System (MITSIS), culminating a four-year development effort.

The computer system serves the faculty and academic departments as well as student-related support services including the Registrar, Bursar, Student Financial Aid, Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs, Dean of the Graduate School, Housing and Food Services, Medical Department, etc.

MITSIS replaces an obsolete, inflexible computer system that required much manual effort and was no longer cost-effective to maintain. The new system will improve services as well as communication between the service providers. During the design process, the development team consulted extensively with all the administrative users of the system, academic departmental offices, and faculty committees, and convened faculty advisory and student advisory groups.

In the next registration cycle, students and departments will see significant changes and simplifications in the forms and procedures. The four forms currently used have been integrated into a single form, thus educing paper handling and streamlining the process. Details of the changes will be described in the Registration Information/Class Schedules Booklet that will be distributed in early December. The new process should make it possible for student addresses and registration information to be available much more quickly.

Also, pre-registration for doctoral students working only on theses will be automatic. For summer term, pre-registration for most graduate students will be virtually eliminated and summer co-op students will register before they leave for their summer assignments. The system will continue to evolve, and within a year students will be able to pre-register on Athena.

This month, students will receive a copy of their status of registration and their academic transcript in order to verify the accuracy of the information converted from the old IBM system. Each student will have a new, randomly assigned MIT ID number to improve privacy. However, students can use their current ID (SSN or 888 number) when completing forms, etc.; MITSIS will recognize either student ID.

Some other improvements for students in the academic area include:

Electronic preparation of the academic transcript, representing a major improvement in quality, as well as speed in getting it prepared and sent out;

Recording on the transcript when students take UROP for pay or as a volunteer;

Showing on students' Status of Registration Reports a "projected degree audit" (that is, the projected progress toward degree requirements if current and immediately prior term's work is satisfactorily completed so that students know if they have registered for subjects needed to meet degree requirements);

Billing transcript fees on the bursar's bill for currently registered students (avoiding a separate trip to the Cashier's Office);

Providing credit card and fax capabilities for alumni/ae to order transcripts;

Improved confidentiality procedures to withhold address/phone information from the public,

Ability to set up degree audit "what-if" scenarios-e.g., how a change of major would affect completion of degree requirements- and improved calculation of academic load level (full-time, half-time, etc.) for certification of financial aid eligibility.

In the Student Financial Aid Office (SFAO) and Bursar's Office, processes will be changed or streamlined to take advantage of on-line processing so that students should see faster response times. Cash advances from the SFAO will replace short-term loans to meet emergency needs; authorized cash advances will be added to the student's bursar's account for repayment, so that it will no longer be necessary to sign a loan note in the Bursar's Office. Also, students will be able to receive the results of any changes in their aid awards as soon as the decision is made (often leaving the SFAO with a confirmation of the award and its effect on their student account).

The Financial Aid Award Notice has been revised in consultation with aid recipients and their families to present award data in a way that is more useful, and to clearly describe grant, loan and work-study awards. Using suggestions from a survey to which 2,500 students and parents responded, the bursar's bill has been redesigned to be more readable and understandable. Financial awards have been connected with the bursar's bills so that there is a clear understanding of how aid awards affect the student bill. Greater clarity about the origin of charges from Housing, Dining, Medical, Libraries, etc. will facilitate the resolution of problems in these areas as well.

The on-line capabilities of the Graduate Aid award process will similarly facilitate the processing of awards and the resolution of problems by academic departments and the Graduate School Office.

The services that have been available for students to access their academic and biographic information on Athena will resume in mid-November, but will be improved within a year for students to view and verify the status of a wider range of academic, financial aid and bursar information. Students will also be able to pre-register on Athena; update a wider range of address, biographical and emergency contact information; and perhaps assist with evaluation of MIT subjects. Present security will be maintained so that this information is protected from unauthorized access.

Academic departments will have access to a wide variety of academic and biographical information on students, and staff will be able to enter data directly on the system to support teaching, advising, graduate aid and catalogue functions. They will see more integrated information regarding "joint" subjects (in which more than one department is involved), and significant reduction in manual paper handling, since they will be able to control the order in which various grade and status reports are sorted and the way grade sheets are prepared.

The electronic room-scheduling book facilitates the ad hoc scheduling of classroom space. A new final exam scheduling system allows better tailoring of the exam schedule and management of conflict exams. Other improvements include:

Making more rational the Course numbering system, including distinctions between masters and doctoral programs;

Improved end-of-term information for review by the faculty Committees on Academic Performance and Graduate School Policy;

On-line electronic class lists with substantial query capability,

Access to detailed information about a student's status toward fulfillment of degree requirements.

A version of this article appeared in the November 2, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 10).

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