Southern fixes registration system

Over the next several weeks Southern University students may be surprised to get a phone call from one of their classmates reminding them of all the steps they need to take to get properly set up for this fall’s classes.

Personal phone calls from student “ambassadors” and bi-weekly emails from administrators are part of Southern’s strategy to move beyond the embarrassing missteps and mistakes that have plagued the university’s registration process off and on for decades.

In years past, students told horror stories of being forced to overnight to register for classes and waiting in lines upwards of 10 hours to process their financial aid applications.

But by all accounts, Southern got it right last year. Students and administrators agreed that the fall 2012 registration process was one of the smoothest-run operations the campus has had in its history.

Although Southern seems to have turned a corner heading into next month’s registration season, the issue flared up again last week in New Orleans during the university’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Board member Tony Clayton brought up Southern’s struggles to get its computer-based student information and financial aid system, called Banner, up and running over the past two years.

Clayton said getting employees trained to use Banner could be the difference between Southern’s ability to attract today’s generation of technology-savvy students or having those students choose to go to school elsewhere where they have an easier time signing up for classes.

“We’re probably the only school in America that can’t get Banner up and running,” Clayton said. “If a kid can’t pick up a phone or get on a computer and easily enroll, they are not going to come to Southern University.”

Southern University System President Ronald Mason agreed with Clayton. Mason has used Banner’s woes in his talks when he’s trying to convince people that Southern needs to ramp up its technological capabilities.

Mason sometimes talks about employees having to print out student information and physically walk it from one office to another during the enrollment and registration process as one example of how far Southern has to go.

“Banner has been on most university campuses for a decade,” Mason said. “We were not implementing Banner until two years ago ... I’ll be honest with you, we have a year to get this right.”

Southern board member and former Tulane University President Eamon Kelly was more forgiving.

“Every university I know has gone through a growing process with Banner,” Kelly said. “It’s a monstrous undertaking. If we get it right in three years, we’re doing better than the vast majority of institutions in the U.S.”

Technology aside, administrators on campus realized that not all of the blame can be blamed on computer software.

Brandon Dumas, Southern’s vice chancellor of student affairs, blamed a lot of the institution’s problems on apathy — from both students and university employees.

Students who don’t check their university email accounts over the summer and employees who feel that registration isn’t part of their job description, contributed to Southern’s struggles, he said.

So with phone call reminders, emails and weekly online informational chats, Al Tezeno, Southern’s vice chancellor for student success, said the expectation is that Southern will repeat last year’s good showing. He said the goal is to get students up to date with what they need to know about registration, financial aid and housing before they arrive on campus.

Southern’s campus last year was dotted with signs showing students and parents where to go for financial aid, housing and registration, with volunteers — university employees and students — posted on nearly every corner ready to answer any questions students may have.

“What we’ve tried to do is change the attitude,” Dumas said. “Before, we had a lack of involvement. Now we let people know that registration is the business of everybody and every department on campus.”