An Early Assessment on the CUNYFirst system
by Jean-Claude Quintyne
CUNYfirst, the new system designed to simplify the way students can register for classes and review financial aid information, officially introduced to the College of Staten Island on April 1, 2013, evoked mixed reactions in students throughout the campus.
One of the major criticisms of the service amongst students is its difficult navigability. Kaitlin Jardine, a senior at CSI, asserts that “CUNYfirst isn’t only not user friendly, it’s a labyrinth of unnecessary folders and [gives] the appearance of being easy and friendly when in truth, it isn’t.”
In June 2010, students at CUNY Queens College and CUNY Queensborough Community College surveyed the system. The results were used to create a team composed of students and faculty who taught training workshops that focused on teaching students and staff how to use the basic features of the system.
From that point forward, the system spread to other CUNY institutions including Brooklyn College, Lehman College, York College, and LaGuardia Community College.
Approximately two years ago, the CUNYfirst reached CSI’s Human Resources Department, and grew from there. The college’s website features a CUNYfirst page, where students have access to a range of “How To” tutorials that give a brief overview of the systems basic functions.
I recall one experience I had attempting to pay my tuition, something that, at first glance, appears to be basic. After half an hour of giving myself an unsolicited tour of the Financial Aid tab, I gave in and clicked on the “Help” link, which was hidden underneath the “My Links” dropdown menu in microscopic print to the far right of the page.
Clicking the link opened a new tab in my browser window entitled “PeopleSoft Enterprise Campus Self Service 9.0 PeopleBook”, a twenty-five “chapter” tutorial book that describes how to use the Student Center.
The book features chapters that cover setting up Financial Aid Self-Service to how to use Self-Service Student Admissions.
I discovered an option to show and hide graphics, located in the upper right-hand corner, which basically were screenshots of the different modules including Personal Information and Financial Aid Awards, that I had already spent half an hour staring at before.
Next to the graphics button was an option to show or hide a reference pane, which enabled me to skip to different chapters of the book so that I could skip to the information I needed without wasting time scrolling through the page.
The book does a decent job of organizing and describing the many different categories of the Self-Service page, but if you aren’t a fan of reading descriptions of things that are pretty self-explanatory, then prepare for a frustrating experience.
Students find it very difficult to have the aspects of CUNYfirst that they like outweigh its shortcomings.
“I like how easy it is to sign up for classes and how you can view them all in the same window,” says Mariah Metzger. “But the weekly view option makes it incredibly difficult for me to view my classes for a general week.”
Another displeasure among students is the fact that it was released in the middle of last semester, a crucial period of time during which students are heavily focused on preparing for final projects and examinations, as well as registering for the following semesters’ classes.
Although registration was pushed back to May 22, the poorly timed release date added a complicated task to many of students’ to-do lists.
English Writing for Adolescent Education major at CSI Anna Tam expresses that she “felt like a freshman again.” She was annoyed that she had to “relearn how to register, check grades and everything!”
“It’s annoying at first, and I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied,” said Tam. “But I’d prefer if we stuck with the old system.”
The thing about CUNYfirst that nags me the most is that it is incomplete. Following my first use of it, I had to wait three days because of “down time” which is a monthly maintenance period that lasts two to three days in order to update its current features, add new ones.
I likened the experience to my one-month affair with Windows Vista, back in 2007, a beta release that masquerades as an official operating system.
The CUNY website features a two-paragraph description of CUNYfirst, describing it in the first as “a massive upgrade in how we’ll do things in the future.” The following paragraph, states that it will be “implemented in phases,” prioritizing academic structure and adding more features within the next few years.
It is disturbing that this service is out there with a lot of itself missing. Students should not have to deal with glitches and unresponsive links on a consistent basis.
“It could potentially be useful, but it just seems really buggy”, says CSI student Alex Caroleo. “I had to wait three hours to register for a class because the website just wasn’t processing my prerequisites; eSIMS was much easier and I never had those problems with it.”
For nearly a month, there has been a notification in the “CUNYfirst Alerts and Notices” module that states that the “Financial Aid tab is active only for Queensborough Community College, Hostos Community College, Guttman Community College, Lehman College, and CUNY Law School students.”
No date referring to when it will be active for every institution using CUNYfirst has been posted.
Accessing Financial Aid information is essential to every college student. Why would, if academic structure was prioritized in this system, the full features of the financial aid tab not be accessible to everybody?
Cynthia Prenelon, a former CSI student who currently attends Brooklyn College expresses her displeasure, “I sure can tell you the service sucks. Whenever there’s an update and I have deadlines to meet, the website begins acting up.”
“There are way too many glitches in that system,” said Prenelon. “Most of the time my financial aid and classes get messed up, it doesn’t even show that I’ve graduated which is ridiculous!”
The signs posted in the grass all over campus last semester as part of the marketing campaign might as well have been picket signs, a physical representation of the frustrations felt by many.
I do not understand why the City University of New York could not wait until all the components of CUNYfirst were ready and running smoothly before it ripped eSIMS out from under everybody.
A number of students will miss eSIMS, but it seems as though CUNYfirst is here to stay. It is normal to have the reactions that students are having now but such things come with change.
I am certain that CUNYfirst will get easier to use with time, so, for now, let’s give it a chance.