It was at 4 p.m. Feb. 23 when chaos ensued in the wake of the MyHousing system’s spontaneous crash. As students rushed to make housing arrangements for The Station at Mill Point, they were met with the error message, “The service is unavailable.”
But after weeks of reflection and analysis, Elon University’s Residence Life is confident the system’s failures are an issue of the past.
Reasoning behind MyHousing launch
Associate Director of Residence Life Operations and Information Management MarQuita Barker said MyHousing, the self-service student housing registration system that launched at Elon in December 2015, was designed to replace the in-house OnTrack system used since 2008.
“OnTrack wasn’t doing some of the day-to-day stuff that we needed,” Barker said. “This new system would allow us to put a lot of our forms online and make some of our business processes a little more efficient. That’s why we went with a third-party vendor.”
One example of inefficiency with OnTrack was the inability for students to electronically submit their signed leases. This forced students to sign paper leases and Residence Life to collect thousands of papers.
Barker said the electronic signature feature is helpful for both students and administrators and allows Residence Life employees to more easily meet the needs of the student population.
Experiencing technical difficulties
Despite positive intentions to increase efficiency, MyHousing began to fail as students flooded into the system. According to Barker, dozens of students registering at the same time led the system to crash.
“This system wasn’t designed to do the same thing as our old system in terms of live housing signup,” Barker said. “Before, we could have a block of a hundred students that would go every 20 minutes. This system wasn’t designed to do that. We had to reconfigure so everyone has a unique time so the system doesn’t overload.”
The solution then became allowing fewer students to register at the same time. The specific order for registration was, and still is, largely based on class year and academic performance.
Before the crash, Residence Life allowed 100 students access to MyHousing per 20 minutes. After the initial crash, access was limited to one student every 30 seconds.
“We tried the 30 seconds, that also didn’t work,” Barker said. “So we had to give everybody a unique minute.”
Later troubles affect underclassmen
This second failure particularly hurt underclassmen who were not looking for off-campus housing.
Sophomore Leah Pellett was one of hundreds of students who suffered from the second round of technical difficulties. At the time of the crash, she said she was put on a waitlist for The Oaks and didn’t have a place to live next academic year.
“I’m homeless, and my roommates and I don’t have housing at all,” Pellett said. “We’re on a waitlist right now for The Oaks, so we’re hoping to get that. I have no idea where I’m living next year.”
Freshman Jack Doherty said he was planning on securing a four-person Colonnades pod but was placed in Danieley after his registration time got bumped back from Thursday to Sunday.
Doherty complained that his rescheduling was the result of a roommate’s grades being factored into the Sunday time slot.
Though Barker said the grades are based on the highest GPA of a group member, Doherty’s thoughts reflect a communication disconnect between students and Residence Life.
“Originally, we had a Thursday slot to request housing, but then they set it for Sunday after they decided to factor in my friend’s grades,” Doherty said. “Now, instead of living in the Colonnades four-person pod like we planned, we’re living in Danieley. They basically screwed us over.”
Barker explained the sophomore signups in March crashed because the 30 second period still caused too many people to be in the same system at the same time. As a result, Residence Life had to change the registration date and add one-minute gaps instead of 30-second gaps.
Since that shift to one-minute slots, students have had smoother access to MyHousing. Nevertheless, they’re still upset.
During the February and March crashes, students flooded the Residence Life phone lines with questions about their inability to get housing approved.
Sophomore Ansley Hamilton said she called the Residence Life office Feb. 23 after noticing the site wasn’t working and continued crashing.
“[Residence Life] told us the server definitely was working, which was strange because we were getting a server unavailable problem,” Hamilton said.
At the time of the first crash, one worker at Residence Life told Elon Local News the office had “no idea what’s going on.”
Residence Life responded to the Feb. 23 crash by starting the process over again, even for those who were able to get their registration approved through MyHousing.
“Housing is very important to everybody, so I completely understood the frustration and people worried about losing their space,” Barker said. “We redid the process to make sure that it was fair. That was something that was hard to explain to some people who had actually gotten a space. They were upset that they would have to redo it.”
Barker said she is glad the technical issues have been resolved but recognizes some students are still upset with their housing situations. She added that new software often brings problems. She is confident the MyHousing system will not have the same issues the next time students register.
“Anybody who uses a new software system is going to tell you there are problems ... We don’t anticipate the same problems because the process looks different [with the one-minute time slot],” Barker said.
Incoming freshmen will not have to worry about using MyHousing since housing assignments are coordinated by Residence Life employees.
Micah Spoerndle contributed reporting.