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We Deserve Better Than LionPATH

Talk to any student, parent, professor, employee, or Penn Stater and the vote is unanimous: LionPATH sucks.

LionPATH was advertised as the cure-all to eLion’s issues, promising to exceed or at least meet the old system’s functionality and outdated user interface. But anyone who’s used both can attest to the major downgrade that LionPATH represents despite high expectations and big promises — and an even bigger price tag ($66 million, and counting).

LionPATH was over-hyped, over-priced, and the system clearly wasn’t even close to ready to be rolled out university-wide. Penn Staters shouldn’t expect every wrinkle to be worked out with a new system, but we at least deserve to have a student management system that isn’t insultingly ugly, hard to navigate, and dysfunctional.

As the university prepared to finalize the transition from eLion to LionPATH, the issues were getting to the point where some students’ class schedules were impacted and others were wrongfully admitted. To date, here’s a list of the issues that LionPATH has caused — and these are just the ones we know about:

If you’re not a current Penn State student dealing with this mess, you may have a hard time grasping just how offensive this interface really is. Take these examples:

This is what it looks like when you first log in. We don’t think they were going for ultra-minimalism.

This is what it looks like when you first log in. No, the white space is not the users' fault.

To schedule classes, you need to add the courses to your shopping cart. President Barron has said time and time again that a Penn State education should not be like “going shopping and picking courses off of a shelf” but an immersive and student-centered learning experience. If you didn’t believe Penn State had gone fully corporate yet, look no further than the “Enrollment Shopping Cart.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 8.27.02 AM

On the degree audit page — a function that still isn’t functional for most students — one must select “Penn State University” from a dropdown menu before proceeding.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 8.30.25 AM

These are just a few of the more ridiculous quirks among hundreds in this $66 million boondoggle.

Students aren’t the only ones impacted. Earlier this week, I was one of the thousands of students who trekked to the Bursar’s office and waited more than an hour in a line that weaved through the lobby and out the door because LionPATH wouldn’t accept their tuition payment. The staff member who helped me said the new system has been causing problems for countless students, parents, and even employees in the Bursar office. Nobody knows how to do anything on LionPATH because of how poorly the site is designed and because important features seem break more than they work.

Compensating by extending the tuition deadline wasn’t exactly reassuring. Penn State’s tuition is notoriously high in-state compared to other public universities across the country, out-of-staters have to pay even more, and tuition just increased. Going to Penn State is a huge investment, and it’s unnerving to trust a system that randomly drops people’s classes without warning and bumps them down to part-time with your money.

Administrators will tell you to “get over” the functionality and apperance and assure you that the backend is more stable than eLion’s “duct-taped” programming behind the user experience. That LionPATH has a strong backend skeleton, whereas eLion was susceptible to crashing and security breaches at much higher frequencies.

Bullshit. For $66 million, we all deserve better. For that price, we deserve strong functionality, attractive apperance, AND a strong backend.

When the university attempted to explain one of these glitches, it presented LionPATH as the “new, comprehensive student information system that Penn State is implementing” in the same breath that it acknowledged a site glitch erroneously admitted students.

We understand that eLion’s end was nigh and a new system was necessary, but this new system should have been shored up long before it was introduced, and let alone before it was officially live as the new (and only) student management system. I’d rather sail in an old boat while the new one is being built than take the new one out on the water and drown to death. (Although the Penn State administration would probably just tell my grieving family to “get over it.”)

Speaking of the official transition, the administration couldn’t have picked a worse time. The change from eLion to LionPATH occurred during the first week of classes, and in order to complete changeover LionPATH had to be entirely shutdown from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, which was also the last day for regular class drop. First off, moving the regular drop deadline up from the middle of the second week of classes to the end of the first took a toll on students — I wasn’t even able to get in to see my adviser before the deadline. And if you are on the fence and decide to drop a class on Sylly week Saturday, odds are you’re going to be doing it sometime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. because it’s the first full weekend back in State College, among other weekend-related reasons. I’m hard-pressed to believe that window was the only four-hour period eLion could be switched off and LionPATH switched on, and, inconvenient to say the least, the poor choice of time was a slap in the face to students who have already weathered so many glitches from the site.

But despite the high price tag and hard deadline for rolling out the system, LionPATH wasn’t ready to handle the stress of scheduling, tuition bills, student aid, drop/add…the list goes on and on. Moreover, the elements of student life that LionPATH handles include the two most critical to students seeing as you can’t attend classes if you aren’t enrolled in any and you can’t enroll in any if you don’t pay Penn State tens of thousands of dollars.

Unlike the transition of Course Management Systems from Canvas to ANGEL — which has also been happening for the last year but has gone much smoother and efficient — you can’t just have a few students schedule on LionPATH to test if the system will be able to withstand tens of thousands of graduate and undergraduate students at one time all trying to do the same thing. A few teachers tested Canvas in their classes last year and now entire colleges are requiring professors to be in the new learning management system. It was phased in, it’s easy to navigate, and it doesn’t look like total garbage or insult students’ intelligence by using terms like “shopping carts,” which should never appear in academia unless you’re taking a course on grocery stores. Maybe we can hire the Canvas people to do LionPATH?

If it’s not ready, don’t force it. If the user interface needs some polishing — nay, a complete overhaul — do that before you set students free to schedule classes. If features like the degree audit aren’t even available yet, then build them in and delay the transition. eLion may have seen better days, but it’s difficult to conceive a system worse than LionPATH and the countless defects it’s presented.

Penn State is a world-renowned university full of smart students, great opportunities, and ever-advancing research and technology. As such, we deserve a student management system that can stand up to daily, necessary tasks without frustrating, insulting, or baffling students.. It’s safe to say that the only people who have benefited from LionPATH are the programmers and developers who wasted our money and the hundreds of students who would be walking by the fountain now at Penn State Altoona on their way to class but for a glitch in the system.

For $66 million we deserve better than LionPATH.

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About the Author

Lexi Shimkonis

Lexi is an editor-turned-staff writer who can often be found at either Irving's or the Phyrst (with the chances she'll have her backpack being the same). Lexi is a senior hailing from Spring City, PA (kind of) and studying Civil Engineering. Please email questions and/or pleas for an Instagram caption to [email protected], or for a more intimate bond, follow her on Twitter @lexshimko.

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