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SPC class registration fix: $850,000

Fixing problems with fall registration pushes other needs down on the priority list.

MONIQUE FIELDS
Published October 4, 2003

St. Petersburg College students don't want to relive this fall's registration glitches.

An overloaded system, complicated by a lightning strike, a computer worm and a server gone AWOL, made class registration a nightmare for hundreds of students.

Many registering online had to maneuver through so many Web pages their computers froze. Those who registered on campus faced long lines, slow computers and frustrated staffers. And if that weren't enough, the computer problems affected student scholarships and financial aid.

Some students said they were charged too much. At least one student said he received a $1,000 financial aid award he didn't deserve and promptly gave it back.

"It was frustrating for everybody," said Miguel Rodakis, a sophomore at SPC's Gibbs campus, who found unexpected financial aid in his mailbox. "The lines were huge and bad."

The cost of fixing the problems: $850,000.

That's a lot of money any time, but especially when SPC is turning students away because of budget troubles. The money could have been used for any number of high-ticket items from providing more English classes to equipment to library books.

The need to address registration problems hopped over all those priorities, officials said.

Jeanine Grossman, 18, logged on to the school's system from home in Palm Harbor and learned she owed $950. That couldn't be, she thought. She has a full-tuition scholarship that pays all her expenses except for laboratory fees. The amount owed should have been about $100.

"If I didn't look at that, they could have dropped all of my classes," she said.

All the trouble started brewing at least two years ago. That was when SPC had planned to upgrade its registration system. Budget cuts got in the way and delayed the project for 18 months. At the same time, enrollment was booming.

"It's fiscal insanity," said president Carl Kuttler.

Other matters piled on top of those problems, including the school's launch of bachelor's degrees while financial aid money poured into the college - doubling to $43-million this year - with the addition of only one new financial aid adviser.

It is not unusual to hit a few bumps during a database transition. In fact, SPC has been phasing in the new system, called PeopleSoft, for several years in other departments and encountered only minor problems. What happened at SPC this fall caused such a ruckus that Kuttler went to the college's board of trustees last month and asked for $850,000 to help fix the registration system problems.

SPC has the money available because more students than expected enrolled and paid more tuition than last year. Much of the money will go toward hiring three new financial aid advisers, about a dozen temporary employees and four or five computer consultants.

"We just didn't have enough tools, and we didn't have enough people," Kuttler said.

Students say they could have told him that. The mere mention of registration brought frowns to their faces Friday.

"First you register and then they drop all of your classes," said Lyudmila Goncharov, 23, a sophomore at the Gibbs campus. Had she not decided to add a class after registering, she wouldn't have found out about the problem until classes were filled.

When freshman Quentin Richardson tried to register, staff members told him he wasn't in the system. "I was dropped, and I wasn't even here yet," he said.

It took Kuttler a little longer than that, but he expects the process will be better in November, when registration will again be at its peak. The college has a solid reputation for customer service but failed to deliver it this fall, Kuttler said.

"We're not going to let that happen again."

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