University Launches System-wide Academic Program Inventory

Filed in Featured, Innovation by and on June 9, 2015

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On Saturday, June 6, 2015, the University of Massachusetts launched its first University-wide Academic Program Inventory. The inventory contains all active degree-based academic programs at the five campuses and is housed on the University of Massachusetts System website, http://www.massachusetts.edu.

For over two years, the University Institutional Research Office (UIRG) had been working on an academic program inventory report developed for internal use by the University’s leadership. While the report sufficiently supported the data needs of the senior AASAIR leadership, Marcellette Williams, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and International Relations (AASAIR), often commented that a user-friendly searchable database based on the content of the static report would be a very useful tool. The idea had been discussed and vetted by the Academic Affairs Council (comprised of senior AASAIR leadership and Campus Provosts), and the council fully supported the idea of developing a web-based academic program inventory.

In the meanwhile, the API report soon caught the attention of the Communications Office and University Information Technology Services (UITS) Web Services teams, who were in the process of developing appropriate content material for the new UMass System website. “The request came at the perfect time. Web Services was receiving regular e-mails through the ‘Contact Us’ form on Massachusetts.edu asking which campuses offered Criminal Justice or more recently Chemical Engineering. We knew by adding this content to the most popular section of the website, Education, we were continuing to meet the needs of our prospective student base,” Kristina England, a member of UITS Web Services at the Office of the President, stated.

When approached by senior UITS personnel to further the design and development of the API in the web environment, the University Institutional Research Office supported the development work that was required to transition the hard-copy version of the report into a web-based searchable database.   They reached out to UITS and engaged with the Web Services team. The IR team didn’t know exactly what their solution would be. They just knew that there was a need for an online inventory that could display the source data for all of the University’s academic program offerings in an accurate and telling manner.

Web Developers Tracy Axelson and Ed O’Connell quickly took a look at one of our in house web tools, Drupal. The amount of data entry – if done manually – would have been staggering. Luckily, they found a tool that could import large amounts of data into the database easily. Web Services had a prototype of the solution up within a week. It proved flexible and adaptable, but also shined a light on the data such that discrepancies were clearly obvious. With feedback from the Project team as well as Campus Provosts, Institutional Research, Registrars, and Admissions, the data and the web tool went through several design iterations.

“Each of the campuses is a separate entity so there are differences between them with regard to how they handle their programs. This tool exposed those differences and required a larger discussion. Some changes had to be made to represent all programs accurately when brought together into one inventory,” stated Tracy Axelson.

The final data was imported on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 after joint efforts from Campus Taskforces to add Teaching Education/Licensure data to their source files. Campuses validated the data in less than a day and the inventory met its proposed launch date. The Campuses provided a great deal of feedback and a significant level of work, all completed during one of the busiest peak periods – Commencement.

Now prospective students can use this inventory to explore their particular interests. They can search by program name, award level (e.g., Bachelors, Graduate Certificate, etc.), program area, and more. Eventually, the Academic Program Inventory will also include non-degree continuing education programs. In addition, prospective students are provided with a detailed landing page that helps them navigate to both the Academic Program Inventory and other key University education resources, including the Campus Course Catalogs and the UMassOnline Course Catalog.

The newly launched inventory can be viewed at http://massachusetts.edu/education/academic-programs. The inventory will undergo future iterations, including a joint effort with the Office of the President Communications Office to look at ways to make the Academic Program Inventory even more interactive.

“We want this solution to evolve over time. We want to enable prospective students, getting them the data they want in the most efficient means. We want to meet and continue to meet the University’s performance goal of student experience and success,” noted England.

“This has been a truly collaborative effort, with invaluable contributions and expertise from individuals across all areas, campus and system alike – Institutional Research, Registrars and Admissions Offices, Provosts, Education Deans, the University Communications Office, UITS, and other business constituents,” stated Neena Verma.

We’d like to take this time to thank the Campuses for making this effort a success and also recognize the core project team members: Neena Verma, Adam Collins, and Preethi Lodha of the University Institutional Research Office; Tracy Axelson, Kristina England, and Ed O’Connell of the UITS Web Services team; and our leadership during this project, Robert Gamache (Associate VP of AASAIR), Marcie Williams (Senior VP of AASAIR), and Bob Solis (University CIO).

For additional information or feedback, feel free to email us at nverma@umassp.edu and kengland@umassp.edu.

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