Penn State

Improvements on the way for LionPATH

Penn State’s new $64.2 million student information system has faced unanticipated problems and waves of criticism since it debuted in August, but project members say improvements are on the way.

Known as LionPATH, it provides students, faculty and staff with a system for handling admission applications, class registration, transcripts, tuition billing and more.

It serves more than 93,000 students at all Penn State campuses except the Pennsylvania School of Technology and replaces a system that was more than three decades old.

Since its rollout, however, complaints have flooded in, and students haven’t been shy about voicing their opinions.

“As an aspiring software developer, it pains me to see such a piece of software used by an institution as renowned as Penn State,” said Brendan Kaulius, a senior majoring in information sciences and technology.

Many students took to Twitter to express their frustrations. A search for “LionPATH” under Twitter’s explore function yields hundreds of critical comments.

“My favorite LionPATH feature is that one where I click something in LionPATH and the loading circle pops up but nothing ever actually loads,” said student Chris Godissart.

The Faculty Senate also has looked at problems with the project. At a Faculty Senate discussion on Dec. 6, Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones assured members that the project team was “making extraordinary progress.”

“The first year is just transitioning from the old system to the new system and that’s difficult,” said Michael Büsges, the project director. “And maybe we weren’t really clear with the campus how difficult that was going to be, because Penn State has never done anything like this.”

LionPATH is a third-party vendor product. The system software is provided by Oracle PeopleSoft Campus Solutions, with CedarCrestone as the contractor for implementation.

Project staff say the rollout is a three-year process and functionality is where it should be at this point in the second year.

Büsges said the system is at full functionality but project staff will “continue to have to enhance and to work on improving the system.”

Jones said in the Faculty Senate discussion in December that he believes the project has turned a corner.

“Many of the challenges that we’ve had — the expected ones and the unexpected ones — the issues have been resolved, largely resolved. There are still others out there that we know are frustrating people, but we’re making extraordinary progress, and I think a year from now, as we’ve gone through another full cycle of this, this is all going to be in the past,” Jones said, according to minutes of the meeting.

Project members expect LionPATH to be in full stride sometime next year.

“Year three is really when we’re seeing it come together, hopefully,” Büsges said.

On. Jan. 13, LionPATH introduced a much-anticipated grade-point average calculator to its interface so students can predict their semester GPA.

But the most frequent criticism has been aimed at the interface layout — what users see when they log in. Büsges said improving it is a priority.

In early March, the project will solicit 100 students to use the updated interface and to test the improvements to registration, billing and other functions. The target to roll out the new interface is early May, around the time of graduation and new student orientation.

Stabilizing the system is another focus.

“We’ve done everything once in the system, and now we really need to look at making it more stable and improve some of the processes and work out some of the kinks,” Büsges said.

The project is slightly under budget, having spent a little more than half of the total cost of ownership, he added. That cost comprises initial implementation, salaries, consultants, software, servers and future updates. It was approved by the board of trustees in 2013, to be spent over 10 years.

Fifty-five staffers remain assigned to the project.

Caralyn Reese is a Penn State journalism student.