The faculty council at Indiana University at Bloomington voted on Tuesday to cancel a popular four-years-and-out graduation policy because the university's new PeopleSoft student-records system could not be programmed to accommodate the policy except at great expense.
Encoding the policy rules in software would have cost the university $230,000 in initial programming expenses and another $60,000 a year in maintenance costs, says Bob Eno, president of the Bloomington Faculty Council.
Students already enrolled in the program, called GradPact, will be unaffected by the decision to drop it, according to Mr. Eno. The program guarantees that students will be able to take courses when they need them in order to graduate on time; the university pledged to waive tuition for students who have to extend their course work beyond four years because courses they needed were unavailable.
The university's existing computer system has helped make GradPact work by keeping track of students' progress toward graduation, and by generating reports for the students' advisers. But those reports will end when the Bloomington campus coverts to the PeopleSoft student-records system next summer, Mr. Eno says.
Even though no new students will be enrolled in the GradPact program, students who pay attention to their advisers should still be able to complete their undergraduate course work in four years, he says.
Tuesday's policy vote is one example of what faculty members at Indiana and elsewhere can expect to occur more often as they learn what it costs to encode academic policies in PeopleSoft's student-records system. "We have always made academic policy without regard to costs," Mr. Eno says. "This picture is now changed."
Technical-staff members at Indiana have been "really excellent at devising work-arounds -- ways of tricking the [new] system to do what it wasn't intended to do," Mr. Eno says. But no immediate work-arounds were found for the GradPact program, he adds.
Few institutions, if any, have enough money when they bring up new systems to recreate immediately all of the functionality that they built into their older systems over a period of many years. "Almost nobody can afford to program all of those customizations overnight," says Don Hossler, associate vice president for enrollment services at Bloomington. "To stay sane, you have to view this as kind of an evolutionary process."
Still, he says, "no self-respecting faculty members want to feel like their policies are being changed by software."
A few institutions, like Indiana, are willing to change academic policies when they buy new information systems, says Michael Zastrocky, vice president for academic strategies at Gartner Inc., an information-technology consulting company.
The problems that Indiana is experiencing are not unique to PeopleSoft systems, Mr. Zastrocky adds. But they probably are going to occur more often with systems from PeopleSoft and Oracle, he says, than those from companies "that have been involved in [higher education] for many, many years."
Indiana has also dropped out of the direct-student-loan program to avoid the expense of modifying the PeopleSoft system to accommodate both the direct-loan program and private-loan programs. In that case, Mr. Eno says, administrators concluded that students would not be disadvantaged because "the gap in service between the two had narrowed considerably."