ColleagueMercer’s ancient computer system, known as Integrow has finally gotten a revamp. The new system, known as “Colleague” is still being phased in, but the student and faculty portal, which replaced the old MyMercer access page, went online March, 2013. Reception to the new system has been mixed but much of the response has been negative.

“The new portal sucks,” said Nassim Ajami, a second year Business Administration major. He added:  “Everything should be in one place, such as the grades and class schedule. It’s a wild goose chase now. It was much easier to find everything with the old system.”

According to a VOICE survey of 30 Mercer students, 67 percent said they have had problems using Colleague and 77 percent said they wish that the old “My Mercer” portal would come back.

Director of Information and Technology, Susan Bowen told the VOICE that the college administrators had prohibited her from speaking to the VOICE directly, but she did respond via email after her responses were cleared with Jim Gardner, Mercer’s Public Relations Manager.

“With change comes challenges,” Bowen told The VOICE. She continued: “We are into the third year of the implementation [of the Colleague system] and moving forward, so we cannot change back.”

She added: “One of the new features that has been implemented [compared to My Mercer] is single sign-on for students and adjunct faculty to their email and portal services.”

According to the college’s most recent annual report, the Colleague system was designed to allow more efficient delivery of services for students and staff.

But students report facing a variety of inefficiencies in the system.

Kaleea Collins, third year Culinary Arts major told The VOICE she has had trouble adapting to the new system: “It’s more difficult and time consuming to find your email and grades. The new system doesn’t tell your overall GPA, and with the old Mercer portal, it was just easier to find things.”

Third year Digital Film major Andrew Ashmet also expressed his opinion, saying, ‘I know someone who missed the deadline for [course] sign up because of the new system, and I almost didn’t sign up myself.”

Ashmet added: “Also the new ID numbers threw everybody off. I’m hoping that they will make more options in the database with easier access.”

When asked why older Mercer students had to get new ID’s, Bowen replied, “the ID format in Colleague is different than our [previous] system.”

Another inefficiency of Colleague affected financial aid recipients, forcing them to use their financial aid voucher within one day of receiving it, in order to purchase books and supplies. Students were notified of this by the many signs on the Bursar’s window reading: “Students can receive only one text voucher per day.”

Although the vouchers were for the students entire aid award, a student who only took night classes or whose book wasn’t in the bookstore that day was out of luck. The vouchers were tracked manually and entered daily through the Colleague system in an effort to either prevent students from spending beyond their means according to faculty emails obtained through open records requests by The VOICE.

Problems with Colleague have affected faculty as well as students.

Some of the issues faculty members have faced include: not being able easily to send group emails to students with attachments included, having less access to students’ transcripts and to advisee information, and having no apparent data on salary or sick days. These were all features that the old system had.

Anne Pollich, a Foreign Language professor who teaches German described another concern: “The old Integrow system made it easier for me to use grade tracking, which allowed me to see how students were doing and whether they had missed assignments. [Integrow] marked categories and generated emails to students automatically if they needed to hand in something.”

When asked why the college selected Colleague when it was time for an upgrade Jim Gardner said: “It was not an issue of how the system works now. It was an issue of taking a proactive step to make sure we have an efficient, reliable system for the future. Colleague was chosen based on its features, the ability to serve our needs and it’s reputation based on experience with other New Jersey colleges.” said Gardner.

Since many Colleague functions are not yet online, The VOICE asked Bowen when the college expects the system to be in full effect. She replied: “In several years. Modifications and improvements to the tools of the system will continue to evolve and be implemented.”

Even though students as well as faculty expressed their concerns with the Colleague system, not everyone is unhappy.

Chris Lewis, a first year Business major, said, “I haven’t had any complications with Colleague. I think it’s convenient and easy and the tabs makes everything accessible.”

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About Louise Traberg-Nielsen

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