MyZou reviews vary among students and faculty

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 | 6:22 p.m. CDT; updated 9:32 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 13, 2008

COLUMBIA — After one year, MyZou gets mixed reviews. Faculty are relatively pleased while students continue to complain about it.

MyZou is a Web portal that MU faculty and students use to access student accounts. They can use it to sign up for classes, pay bills, input grades, see course history - a step up from its predecessor StarMU, which had been used at MU since 1975.

Last fall, there was an incident that caused MyZou to send out grad acceptance letters to students who hadn't been accepted yet, and then there was a financial aid issue that delayed $8.6 million in federal loans to students.

"With the financial aid problem, it wasn't a software issue. So we don't anticipate the same challenges this year," said Brenda Selman, director of student information system implementation.

"The biggest problem would probably be the adjustment for the new processing for financial aid, but we took many steps to ensure students weren't inconvenienced as much as we could," she said.

One difference between faculty and student satisfaction with the system appears to come from the fact that faculty were aggressively urged to get trained in MyZou while students and parents have to take the initiative and complete the online tutorial. Another difference is that faculty don't have to use the system to pay bills. MyZou's billing system has left some parents and students wondering how much money they owe and why they've incurred late fees.

But the creators/administrators of the system say they've worked out the major bugs and that with each year, student testimony of the system improves.

"The good news it that new students will know no difference, and each year the students are a little more tech savvy." said Aaron C. Cook, academic adviser in the college of business.

After 32 years of StarMU, it was time for an update. MyZou combined all the enrollment elements of StarMU, but added TigerFAN (financial aid network) and Tiger Tracks (online bill pay).

"On StarMU, the separate systems did different things, so communication between them had to happen overnight. Now, all activity happens immediately, so MyZou can be accessed 24/7 since all the systems are in one place," Selman said.

MyZou also has a wish list feature, a place for students to put classes they wish to take but have yet to sign up for. And because it is available on the Web, no extra software is needed.

The faculty's biggest concern last fall was anxiety over adjusting to the new system. Some voiced concerns before they had used it, and then found it to be easy and liked being able to enter information online, Selman said. "They've had to learn something new and it's been different than completing the pencil and paper bubble sheet," she said. "It's just an adjustment, but response has been positive."

Overall, faculty has given MyZou a good grade but acknowledge a few minor challenges.

"I love MyZou, and I haven't had any system issues," said Cook.

But some aren't giving out glowing reviews.

"The biggest challenge has probably been learning how you look at course enrollments - how you see what the capacity is and what the current enrollment is," said Ted Tarkow, assistant dean of College of Arts and Science and professor in the department of classical studies.

Working with the system as a dean and as a professor, Tarkow gets more experience than most. He says that last year, getting a student's records - high school information, transfer information and grades - was difficult.

"But this year it was a piece of cake," Tarkow said. "Some faculty members are finding it easier to handle their responsibilities this year, yet some are still finding grades a challenge."

Students and parents have had a significantly different experience with MyZou.

As an advisor, Cook sees students getting frustrated as they work with computers that can't deal with the system.

"It could be a bit more reliable," Cook said.

Sophomore Sara Horrocks has been one of the frustrated students.

"I couldn't access MyZou from my computer," she said. "It probably just had to do with my computer, but I still cannot get to the Web site from my own computer."

"My roommate had the exact same problem," 2008 graduate Kristen Guilander said.

"I have had the same problem. On my laptop, MyZou doesn't work - but from my desktop it does work. I thought it was because of everyone signing on for classes but it still doesn't work," junior Molly Henry added.

And while MyZou now allows for students to access their finances online, the switch from paper billing to online billing has caused some confusion and dissatisfaction.

The switch was made in the MyZou self-service section, which allowed each student to give their consent online under the finances portion. Once the student consented online, all billing was to be handled online. If the student doesn't consent, or e-consent, some paper bills are still sent home.

"It could not be assumed that all students wanted to e-consent," said Paul Toler, director of accounting services. "There was a paper letter sent home in the summer about e-consenting, then once a student e-consented, there was a confirmation e-mail sent out - although due to federal guidelines, you can't have both online and paper billing," Toler said.

But students and parents alike see this as a problem.

"They act like agreeing to the e-consent is a choice, but if you want to have access to online information about financial aid, finances or process a loan, then you have to agree to e-consent," 2008 graduate Ann Smith said. "But the drawback of agreeing to e-consent is that your bills are no longer mailed to your permanent address, aka your parents. And I'm assuming that much like myself, a large percentage of MU students are lucky enough to have their parents pay for their tuition. So then it becomes your responsibility."

The problem blew up for the Smith family.

"After three years of my parents paying my bill perfectly and on time, my last year of college involved a lot of late payments and a lot of fees," Smith said. "MyZou needs to acknowledge that many parents are involved in the payment of the students' bills and should make it easy and simple for the parents to continue paying them."

Helen Heaslip, mother of an MU senior, doesn't recall receiving any notification about a switch from paper billing. "I am always very aware of anything that comes from MU in the mail, billing information especially," Heaslip said. "My daughter was abroad in the fall, and when she got back we were both very confused as to why we hadn't gotten the regular billing statement that normally comes in the mail."

Because her daughter had been away and Heaslip hadn't been notified of the change, she found she'd been charged multiple fees. "I take care of her educational finances, and now I have to sit on the phone with her while we confusingly walk through the online billing process," she said.

Not being able to use a Visa credit card has been an added inconvenience, Heaslip said. The system accepts only Discover and MasterCard.

Seniors Kathryn Lucchesi and Jake Burnett are irritated with other aspects of the program.

"I definitely don't like how you have to change the semester every time you access a new page. I also don't like that your actual schedule is mixed in with your dropped classes," Lucchesi said.

"MyZou's general interface is way complicated. There are tons of sections that general students don't need to use, and getting to ‘add classes' or ‘drop classes' can take a bit of searching if you're a first-time user," Burnett said.

But the program isn't exactly perfected yet.

"There are some tools that students have that are slowly getting added so they can see everything advisors can see," Cook said. "That's in the process."

Even gentle critics, such as Tarkow, have seen improvement. "There is good support, and we're all trying to get used to stuff that's new, and allowing kinks to get worked out. Year two shows a lot of progress," he said.

"There has been lots of training support this year," Tarkow added.

Students are encouraged to participate in MyZou training as well, which can be accessed at

Selman, MyZou's creator, said all the bugs in MyZou have been worked out, but work continues on software that will make it easier to communicate with students.

"As far as the to-do list goes, we'd like to see other offices and units learn how that system works and use it more to help with communication," Selman said.

Her prediction for the second year of MyZou is steady improvement. "With any new system, there's a learning curve, and the second time through is always perceived to be easier."


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