Pennant initiative brings Penn record-keeping into 21st century

In October, the Next Generation Student Systems (NGSS) team, led by Michael Kearney of Information Systems & Computing and Robert Tisot of Student Registration and Financial Services, successfully launched the first of three major initiatives, a new student billing system called Pennant Accounts. Now the project team is modernizing student records and financial aid, and is seeking input from the University community at a town hall meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 9., from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in Berger Auditorium, Skirkanich Hall.

“At the core of the University’s computing architecture are student records, financial aid, and student billing—systems installed in 1977, 1986, and 1988, respectively,” Tisot says. “We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of mileage out of them, but they didn’t offer us the flexibility to move forward as an institution.”

With that in mind, the NGSS team plotted a course to replace these systems. They began with student billing because, of the three, it was the oldest and would initially affect the fewest users. That process commenced in 2012.

According to Tisot, the successful 2015 launch saw the conversion of 50,000 student accounts. In the nearly two months since going live, the system has posted more than 180,000 transactions and generated 23,000 student bills.

Up next is an upgrade for the student records and financial aid systems. Though the upgrade technically began in January, a timeline and scope haven’t been determined. That’s why Kearney says the upcoming town hall is crucial.

“This is a well-understood process, but of course each initiative is of a different size and complexity, with different stakeholders,” he says. “Generically it works, but we’re focusing now on the specifics.”

Kearney says the upgraded system will streamline record-keeping for faculty, allowing them to spend more time on research and instruction.

Students can use the new system for degree planning, such as designing a course mix that ensures on-time graduation. Student-athletes can use it to help them make sure they meet any NCAA requirements.

Tisot and Kearney acknowledge that moving to the new system may be difficult for some employees, and they hope the town hall meeting will assuage any fears.

“It’s one of the biggest IT projects the University will have done in years,” Kearney says. “That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but we’re not going to get it done without the continuing active engagement of the community.”