Carnegie Mellon Revolutionizes Student Registration Process

Recognized as a pioneer in the use of computing in education, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania offers degrees in several technical fields including engineering, computer science, technology and science. Its "Andrew" computing network, named for benefactors Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon, is among the most advanced on any campus today. However, until recently the school's antiquated and cumbersome enrollment process was one of the top frustrations for the school's 3,000 graduate and 4,500 undergraduate students.

Survey Says

Five years ago CMU surveyed its students to see what the institution could do to improve student satisfaction. The response was unanimous: fix the school's enrollment process. To get the classes they wanted, students would camp out overnight to be first in line. Then they would spend an entire day walking from one department to another to register for classes. The worst part, according to Martha Baron, director of information services at CMU, was that students felt the system was unfair. They wanted a consistency in the process. They wanted the same rules for everyone." They were also embarrassed that Carnegie Mellon, home to one of the world's best computer science departments, was still using a paper enrollment system.

Thus, CMU embarked on a project to replace the old enrollment system with a solution they now call OLR or OnLine Registration.

CMU's goals were to:

  • Create an online enrollment process that was fast, simple and student-friendly.
  • Ensure that course registration was a fair and consistent process for all.
  • Build an application to support online enrollment.

One Solution for All

After careful consideration, CMU staff decided to go with Hewlett Packard's enterprise solution package based on their price and performance. Security also was a very important issue to a school training the next generation of computer engineers. To construct the OLR system, CMU implemented HP 9000 Enterprise Servers, a model T600 4-way database server (1GB memory) and a K430 4-way front-end Web server (768MB memory). Running HP-UX 10.20, the OLR system utilized the TCHP protocol for the Central Campus Network, which connected student-owned PCs using a variety of Web browsers at thousands of sites and university-owned PCs located at clusters situated around the campus for student use.

Students and Administration Reap Benefits

CMU decided to first conduct a pilot of the OLR system with nine hundred students from the colleges of computer science and engineering. The pilot was so successful that CMU decided to go live with OLR for the next registration period with a "Big Bang" approach. Baron says, "I've talked to many, many other schools that have implemented online registration processes. We're the only ones who did not try an incremental approach." Despite a fire in the machine room and an intense traffic load, the HP system proved to be a success.

The OLR system cut student registration times from 1 day to 5 minutes in most cases and made the process easier and more consistent. OLR reduced administration costs and freed advisors and professors to advise and teach.

Improved student satisfaction has given the school a competitive advantage in student retention. Says Baron, "We wanted to make our students a lot happier, and we've done that."

Contact Information
Hewlett Packard
Palo Alto, CA

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.