Registrar Looks at Study Cards

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Registrar’s Office is currently working on a proposal to radically overhaul the school’s online student information system, giving hope to the perennial Undergraduate Council campaign promise that students will be able to submit their study cards electronically.

But given the scope of such a project, FAS Registrar Michael P. Burke said, the online course registration is still “years, not months away.”

The easing of the study card process—often a College student’s most direct interaction with the Registrar’s Office—has been a key demand of student leaders dating back to the presidential campaigns of Fall 2009. The issue has remained on the agenda of the UC’s Education Committee for the past school year.

Current Chair Samuel F. Himel ’12 said the committee will prioritize the transition to the web, and UC President Senan Ebrahim ’12 has said that he hoped to have electronic course registration by next fall.

Burke said revamping the registrar’s online services has become one of his major priorities since taking the helm of the Office last January. Administrative deans from various FAS divisions and representatives from Harvard University IT Department are also cooperating on the project.

In addition to moving course registration online, the project aims to digitize student enrollment records as well as enable students to print unofficial transcripts directly.

Administrators including Burke and Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds have indicated that this initiative is still in the early planning phases, and that it is unlikely that any online study card submission will be introduced before the completion of this more long-term project is completed.

“We don’t want to do something that we’re going to have to replace in a few years and we haven’t focused on a short-term fix,” Burke said.

According to Hammonds, an independent HUIT project would need to be proposed in order to see the installation of online class registration on the timeline that student leaders such as Ebrahim are pushing for. But she added that her office has made no requests for independent proposals.

Currently, students add classes to their planner via an online portal and then print out a study card with a barcode scanned by the registrar’s office. Students must get paper signatures from their freshman or concentration advisors, resident deans, and, in some cases, instructors of limited enrollment courses.

This partially electronic system was first used in the fall of 2005. Barry S. Kane, who was registrar at the time, said in 2005 that the move saved the office $50,000.

In the past, faculty members and administrators have objected to online course registration over concerns that students would no longer meet with their advisors if they did not need a paper signature. Hammonds has indicated that the College will only consider plans that will encourage advising meetings.

“You can’t really enforce good mentorship by having a mandatory meeting to sign paperwork,” Ebrahim said in support of a transition to online study cards.

Administrators are also considering coordinating the new FAS system with those of other schools across the University, another wrinkle that could delay its introduction.

Before coming to FAS, Burke spearheaded a similar initiative to create more online access for students during his tenure as the registrar of the Harvard Kennedy School. In addition to the Kennedy School, other divisions across the University, such as the Design School, have introduced online course registration in the past few years.

“Each School’s system is at a different stage,” Burke said. “Now is the time for FAS to consider it.”

—Julie M. Zauzmer contributed to the reporting of this article.

—Staff writer Stephanie B. Garlock can be reached at sgarlock@college.harvard.edu.

Tags