Behind the scenes: Student Information System transcript exchange

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Each year, over 20,000 electronic transcripts are exchanged between U of T and other post-secondary institutions via the Ontario Universities’ Electronic Transcript System. Over the past two years, U of T has modernized this complex system of incoming and outgoing transcripts, resulting in improved data quality and processing efficiency. 

On August 17, the teams at Enterprise Applications & Solutions Integration (EASI) and Enrolment Services launched the upgrade to Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) transcript exchange to align with data standards created by the Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council (PESC).  

“The update allowed the OUAC transcript exchange system to move to a modern data format and resulted in an entire rewrite of the data model and application,” says June Cheng, senior developer and project supervisor with EASI. “The new data format is a lot easier to read, and by improving the system it will be better supported in the future.”  

The transition to the new data standards involved shifting from Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) data format to more modern Extensible Markup Language (XML). These electronic transcripts are exchanged between postsecondary institutions as undergraduate students apply for graduate studies and professional programs or transfer between institutions. By creating consistent standards, institutions can align on exchanging transcripts in a consistent and efficient way.   

“The PESC data structure for transcripts is massive and could be described like a tree with hundreds of roots and branches. It was important to design a clean database that maps out this intricate structure, to improve our processes and provide a design that others can easily interpret,” says Cheng. “We also created additional automated workflows and updated infrastructure.”  

As part of the project, the EASI team also worked with Enrolment Services to help integrate the “common digital layout” transcript with the Slate application, which converts incoming XML transcripts from post-secondary institutions into a PDF format. The PDF transcripts have vastly improved business processes, due to their ability to display XML transcript data from different intuitions in a visually consistent and easy-to-read format.  

With the move to a more modern data format, June really helped to create the foundation for Enrolment Services to move to the creation of PDF transcripts from PESC standard XML data” says the project lead from Enrolment Services, Joseph Minichini, assistant university registrar, policy and projects. “Along with EASI and OUAC, we worked with the Common Digital Layout Working Group of the CanPESC User Group to create a standardized PDF transcript that will streamline workflows.” 

Beyond Enrolment Services, the project also involved close collaboration with EASI teams, including Technical Solutions and Architecture, and Access and Production Control. 

“Over two years June worked with many teams to push this project forward and help our users and OUAC align on outcomes,” says Matt Hendrickson, technical lead with EASI. “She was tremendous at gathering requirements, learning the technology to map everything out and completing the project before the deadline this fall.”  

Cheng will be retiring from U of T in January 2023 after 33 years of service. Her goal before retirement was to complete this project as well as train other staff who will be supporting this and other systems she’s currently supporting.  

“I’m happy to be able to complete the project on time and that it’s working well!” says Cheng. “While these behind-the-scenes projects aren’t as visible, they’re just as important as other Student Information System projects because they are part of the core student record system that supports all applicants, students and registrarial staff.”