Click, Click — You’re Done!

April 15, 2011 | CUNY Matters

The new CUNYfirst online system

is speeding up services from registration

to record-keeping University-wide.

Aradhna Persaud and Ashley Grant, two Queensborough Community College students, made registering for classes with the new CUNYfirst online system appear downright easy. In fact, they told finance, human resources and enrollment officials at a conference at City College, it was just as easy as it appeared.

Standing before a projection of a laptop’s screen, Persaud described each step as Grant clicked tabs and prompts. They logged into the private “Aradhna’s Student Center,” checked her adviser-approved course plan, searched for classes and put two in her shopping cart. She signed up for one by clicking “enroll,” but hit a roadblock at Business 201, which had closed when it reached the maximum number of students. CUNYfirst asked if she wanted to join a waiting list. Instead, going to the “swap” tab, Persaud opted for an English course. Grant clicked “enroll” and a green check mark appeared. She was in. She looked at her bill and its due date.

The “view weekly calendar” link showed her summer schedule — or what it would be if this hadn’t been a demonstration. “I better remember to delete all that,” Persaud said, “because I’m graduating this spring” with an associate degree in business administration. Like Grant, she has applied to Baruch College.

Queensborough and Queens College were the first campuses to adopt the student and faculty features of CUNYfirst, which stands for “fully integrated resources and services tool.” The system revolutionizes all of the University’s computer systems that serve students, faculty and staff. It streamlines operations from hiring to bill paying to transcripts.

Planning began in 2000 to replace a jumble of kludgy, campus-based computer systems, some of them dating to the 1970s. They didn’t communicate well, couldn’t handle users’ needs and lacked functions that had become familiar with the spread of the Internet. When CUNYfirst is fully deployed, the days of paper will finally be gone and every University information system will seamlessly mesh with every other.

“We needed an updated, integrated system that gives students, faculty and staff access to their information through one portal in real time,” explained Brian Cohen, Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer. “Reducing administrative time and overhead will allow CUNY to focus more on its mission — the academic success of our students.”

In personnel, for example, the “talent acquisition management” system has accepted job applications, routed them to the proper hiring person and, after decisions are made, transferred essential data to payroll and human resources since September 2009. No longer must someone repeatedly fill out the same information. And if an adjunct teaches at three campuses, the system knows it’s the same person.

Faculty will gain access not only to their personal information, like leave time, but also get lists of advisees, class rosters with e-mail addresses and phone numbers, course offerings and schedules, and the ability to mark attendance and post grades online.

Since the summer of 2008, the University has rolled out parts of the software suite to some 135 business units. Currently running University-wide are modules for general ledger, line-item budgeting, base human resources processes, recruiting, course catalogs and faculty workload. Future modules include a new admissions system (in 2012 or 2013), a new procurement system in summer 2012 and a financial aid system that will be introduced in waves.

Since November 2010, Queensborough Community College and Queens College have been the Wave One guinea pigs for implementing CUNYfirst’s academic components, which include basic academic functions, bursaring and student records.

Wave Two schools, slated to go live this November, are the other six community colleges (including the new community college), Lehman College and the CUNY Law School.

Wave Three schools, scheduled for 2012, are Brooklyn, City Tech, Medgar Evers and York Colleges and the College of Staten Island.

Wave Four schools, set for 2012 or 2013, are Baruch, City, Hunter and John Jay Colleges, along with the Graduate Center, including the Graduate Schools of Journalism, Public Health and Social Work and the School of Professional Studies.

Celia Lloyd, City College’s assistant vice president for enrollment management, said she hosted the hourlong CUNYfirst “town hall” meeting as part of a continuing information campaign. “Part of our strategy is to keep this on the radar screen,” Lloyd said. With the rollout just a year away, “I’ve started talking with our student affairs team about attracting a cadre of students whom we can make a part of our planning team.” Meanwhile, “We’re learning from the experience of those now moving into CUNYfirst” in order to make the forthcoming rollout as uneventful as possible, she said.

There’s little doubt that each campus will encounter difficulties, said James Russell, CUNYfirst’s academic integration lead. For example, as Aradhna Persaud and Ashley Grant helped fellow Queensborough students register for the first time with the new system, they encountered glitches with user names and passwords. Russell recalled that many Queensborough students initially had erroneous “service stops” in their records, meaning they needed to get faculty approval to take a course, as if they lacked a prerequisite.

Providing students with early access to the system can do wonders in implementing it smoothly, Russell said. “As our next schools go live, they will have a population that has used the system elsewhere at CUNY and they give advice in the cafeteria informally,” he said.

As comprehensive as is the software suite, from Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise Campus Solutions, there will be campus-by-campus tweaks. Responding to a question, Russell said there is flexibility in handling campus-specific business practices like withdrawing from a class or signing up for independent study courses.

Jim Davis, City College’s acting director of human resources, said he’s pleased with the new software, which handles data for 3,000 current and 10,000 former City College employees. Salary updates are automatic and the new hiring process has eliminated most paperwork while improving security.

Purchasing director Mario Crescenzo welcomed CUNYfirst’s assurance that money was actually in the college’s checkbook and the ease of generating reports and answering queries, among other pluses.  “Information is at your fingertips” and the learning curve isn’t steep, he said.

For an animated tour of CUNYfirst, see first.cuny.edu.