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Assembling advising folders

A colleague recently asked for admissions information on a group of students, such as their admissions essays and their potential list of majors. In reply, they got the following message [1].

The admissions information is available to select staff via an online interface called Perceptive Content. Each July/August someone in this office prints off the application for every first-year student and makes folders for the faculty advisers. It’s incredibly labor intensive. I don’t know how we’d do it for your students prior to that time since it takes a staff member a full week just to do this [2].

The colleague forwarded that message to me and asked me to muse about it, particularly the workload for the staff member So, here goes.

Let’s begin with the backstory. Some time ago, the College decided to move from an integrated student system to a best of breed approach. That means that each department [3] determines what software would work best for their purposes [4] and we then try to figure how to patch them together.

Admissions works with Perceptive Content and the Registrar works with Ellucian. I have no idea how the two work together, but I’ve never seen student application materials in Ellucian.

Of course, that doesn’t make much difference, because most faculty members prefer to work with paper [5].

We are therefore in a situation in which we have information in electronic form in a system with limited access and we want it in physical form for advisors.

Of course, the information in the system is not the only information that goes in advising folders. Language departments provide placement information in physical form. Statistics, mathematics, and computer science also provide information in physical form. Someone has to label the folders. And I’m sure there’s more.

So, why does it take a week? Let’s suppose that it takes five minutes per folder to label, print and file the admissions materials, and add the placement and other information. We have about four hundred and forty incoming students. That’s 2200 minutes or 36 hours. So yes, it makes sense that it takes a week.

Does that trouble me? A bit. But until (a) someone figures out how to link our systems, (b) the College buys better advising software, and (c) faculty agree to deal with even more materials in electronic form [6], it seems like a week of work is necessary. But the cost of one week of staff member is a lot less than the cost of that software. In addition, I would expect that if we did everything in physical form, from start to finish, like we did when I was first at Grinnell, we would find that it required multiple weeks of staff time, just spread out over a longer period, and perhaps multiple staff members.

This musing probably isn’t what my colleague expected or wanted. But it’s what I came up with when I mused about the issue.

[1] I’ve edited the message slightly.

[2] Anonymous. n.d. Personal communication.

[3] Administrative department, not academic department. So things like Admissions, the Registrar, or Communications.

[4] The faculty don’t really think that WebAdvisor/SelfService is the best software for advising, but Ellucian may be best of breed for the registrar.

[5] Perhaps if we got better software for faculty members, faculty would be happy to work electronically.

[6] Faculty won’t agree to work with material in electronic form until we get better advising software, which is why it’s on my list.

Version 1.0 of 2017-05-06.