Long before ONE.UF, online registration and even TeleGATOR phone registration at the University of Florida, there was demand-analysis registration with Mr. Bob.
“Registration at the time was set up in the Florida Gym, and we had OPS [Other Personnel Services] staff we had hired to help, and we had Mr. Bob, as we called him,” recounts Diana Hull, senior associate university registrar and COMPASS Student Records Team lead. “He was a tiny little retired gentleman who would stand at the front of the room and shout:
Att-en-tion students, we have a new-ly closed section. Section 1-2-3-4 is now closed. Please check acc-ording-ly.”
Around the time of Mr. Bob, in the early '90s, registration for the University of Florida was done with pencil and paper, using SAT-style bubble sheets and laser machines to verify registration success or failure. Students thumbed through encyclopedia-length printouts of available courses and were sometimes assigned classes for which they had never registered.
A constant in the Office of the University Registrar (OUR) – the core office responsible for maintaining the academic integrity of the academic record for the student - since Mr. Bob and laser-guided registration has been Diana Hull, who joined UF as a staff member in 1987 after graduating from the university and proving, multiple times, that she could, indeed, type.
I went up there and the first thing they said to me is:
‘So how well do you type?’
Not real well.
‘Well, we suggest you take this typing test because the only way you’re going to get a job at UF is to be a secretary because that’s really all that we have that would be appropriate for you with your background and training.’
I was like, ‘what?’ So, I got a call a couple of days later from somebody in the registrar’s office to set up an interview. I went for an interview that was supposed to have been, I think, 30 minutes, and I ended up staying for about two hours. And then I was called back in for a second interview with our associate registrar at the time, Steve Pritz, who’s our current registrar. He had this big long office, and he sat behind this big desk and started throwing questions at me.
‘Why aren’t you going back to school?’ ‘Why would you want to work right now?’ ‘Why wouldn’t you just pursue a graduate degree now that you’ve finished your bachelor’s degree?’
And I had to come up with answers for all of that. And then, the fated question came up again:
‘How well did you say you type?’
Yet another OUR constant since those days has been the mainframe computer that ran and still runs registration processes and holds the university’s student records.
“At the time it was literally cutting edge and state of the art: IBM’s best technology, the latest and the greatest,” Diana said, noting that the coding and programming behind the mainframe is all locally written and homegrown. “We have been very fortunate over the years to have such amazing programming resources devoted to us that have made our system so flexible. And we were able to customize it exactly as we wanted it to be.”
Custom coding has allowed for innovative practices at the OUR, Diana says, like freshman Preview registration, which allows freshman the same odds of receiving a course whether they attend Preview in May or July. Another advanced custom process allows student major changes to be done within the colleges, without the OUR’s involvement. Moreover, the homegrown course room search, Diana relays, allows the OUR to optimize classroom seat utilization and class placement, processes other universities are still striving to achieve.
“We do things that nobody else in the country does and that they are envious of.”
However, mainframe computers, like all technology, have an expiration date. Hence COMPASS and the need for the Student Records Team to lead the effort to upgrade and modernize UF’s student information system (SIS), which will replace the mainframe. Despite the replacement, Diana adds, the new SIS will continue to accomplish the OUR’s custom and innovative practices.
Aside from replacing mainframe technology, which has grown obsolete and, therefore, difficult and expensive to maintain, Diana says the COMPASS Student Records Team is working hard to bring some long-needed upgrades to the SIS and how the OUR staff, as well as students, access and/or manipulate student records.
Mirroring one of the central tenets of the overall project, Diana says that one of her team’s priorities is improving the system’s user experience by upgrading and modernizing its interface, and making its use much more intuitive.
“We’d really love to have a system that is intuitive enough that you don’t need training. You can look at it and figure it out like Amazon; nobody has to teach somebody how to shop on Amazon.”
Diana also stresses the need for a “unification” of student records.
Another principle component of COMPASS that the Student Records Team is working toward is “Free the Data,” which will require unifying data across campus in a centralized and access-friendly place: the Data Lake. For decades, she relays, UF has had many silos of OUR-related data all over campus. Once that data is consolidated in the lake with proper security measures and compliance regulations accounted for, users seeking student records information will have more access to that data, along with improved reporting and analytics tools with which to manipulate or visualize it, but less ability to remove and/or silo it from its storage location.
For decades we have had a lot of silos of data all over campus, for many reasons. There are good reasons that people felt they needed to maintain their own data, but part of this whole project is to try to unify that data in what they’re calling the Data Lake. So everybody is sharing their data and everybody will have access to their data. And I think that is something that is way overdue and really sorely needed. There are no secrets. They’re talking with the project ‘Free the Data.’ The data is the data, and anybody is welcome to it. We do have a few concerns in how people interpret the data, and we’re just going to have to address those as we go because you can get two very different answers looking at the data depending on how you ask the question.
If you find it surprising that student data generated from the OUR is utilized across campus, you’re probably not alone. Student records are used by a huge number of departments and facilities on campus, and they control functions that might not be obvious.
“The registrar is generally a very un-understood concept,” Diana says. “Being a registrar is not a very public thing. We go to school, get our classes, take them, graduate, and we don’t really know how that happens. But how that happens is a student records system in the registrar’s office.”
For example, the student records system will prevent you from picking up your Gator football tickets if you’re not properly enrolled for classes. Want to lift weights at the Southwest Recreational Center or check out a book at Smathers Library West? Not if you’ve got a hold on your academic record keeping you from registering for classes. And even if you feel like the big man on campus, a UF sophomore can’t buy parking upper-class-specific parking permits because of, you guessed it, the OUR and student records.
The Office of the University Registrar works with a student from the moment they’re admitted until they’ve graduated, and even then, they maintain that student’s record in perpetuity. Its staff work closely with students, faculty and staff in areas or processes such as:
Despite the myriad services provided to the university, Diana describes the OUR as, ideally, an “invisible office.”
In today’s world, in my personal opinion, the registrar’s office is an invisible office. I would like to see all of our functions and all of our processes work so smoothly that students don’t need to know that there’s such thing as a registrar’s office. People are all over the place. They’re busy. They don’t have time to come and stand in lines anymore to register, and it’s not necessary. All of that can be done at a distance. We have more and more students who are not even in the Gainesville area, who are around the world. And they can take care of their own business online. And if the registrar’s office, in my estimation, is doing a good job, they don’t really have to know we have to exist because it just flows so smoothly.
COMPASS is in the process of bringing new technology and processes to the OUR, but one shouldn’t expect drastic change in the position of senior associate registrar. Diana balks at the mention of the “R” word, and instead is seeking new personal and professional challenges. Her job, she says, has evolved from just a job into a fulfilling career and a passion.
She attends and regularly presents at professional registrars conferences at the state, regional and national levels: FACRAO, SACRAO and AACRAO. Furthermore, 25 years after earning a master’s degree in education, she is mulling over the idea of pursuing a doctorate in higher education administration and policy.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a specific impetus for it,” Diana says. “It’s for me.”