The missing link

September 15, 2000

Carol J. Schlueter

It's been the missing link for the Registrar's Office for the past three years. Students could view the semester's class schedule online via the Tulane Web site, but they had to register by phone using TUTOR. Now, Earl Retif is getting totally wired, and he's one happy registrar.

Months of work by Retif and his team will pay off for the university community starting in December, when fall grades will be available for the first time online through secure pages on the university's Web site. And in April, Retif's new online student registration system will debut in time to register for summer and fall 2001 classes.

"I'm very pleased with the new system so far," Retif said in late August as development continued. "It's clearly a major help in a number of areas."

The online system will answer a growing demand from the Web-conscious student population. As the registrar noted, "Our incoming class is used to doing things on the Web, instantaneously. Their institution doesn't have services they think are routine."

And that will change in a few months. By December, when the first phase of the new system goes live, students will be able to access the registrar's office Web page to inquire about their fall semester grades and any previous semester's grades as well. They will use the secure personal identification number assigned to each student for the TUTOR grades-by-phone system.

Retif felt it was important to maintain the simplicity of using the student's same PIN for the online access, but the new system also will allow students to change the PIN if they wish. He is especially proud of the new course-availability feature. When students log onto the new system in December, they will be able to view and print out their current class schedule, as well as their pre-registered classes for the coming semester.

If they happen to be on a wait list for any class, the system will show them what number they are-for example, "number 2 of 100." And a course-availability screen allows students to view a specific course for the upcoming semester and see the maximum enrollment for the course, the number of students who are wait-listed and the number of available seats.

The Associated Student Body has been interested in online services for several years, as has Retif. Inquiries from parents about the absence of online registration helped propel the project this year. Previously, the work had been shelved as the university contemplated an all-new and highly complex student information system. Work is under way on that system, but the decision was made to use an interim solution to make online registration a reality now.

Tulane, after all, was definitely "playing catch-up" with its peer institutions, many of whom had already developed such online services, Retif said. Mary Walsh, director of software applications, and Louis Crispino, senior programmer, selected a software package that would pull student data from the current mainframe system and display it on Web pages.

Crispino, along with Kai Hamburg, data control specialist in the registrar's office, began design work for the project in June. Programming began Aug. 1 and is now being completed. Retif plans to work with Simeon Wildman, law student and president of ASB this year, and a group of students to go through the system and make suggestions.

"I welcome their input," Retif said. One of Retif's chief goals is to have good response time for the system, "to give students the best service."

In addition, his group has made sure the system would be secure. "We paid attention to security because that's a major concern. These are secure Web pages; anything that is transmitted is encrypted."

The Registrar's Office will still mail grade reports if students wish and will keep TUTOR operating as in the past for grades and registration. When the missing link to online services turns on, however, it will begin a new era for Tulane.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000