The Strategic Role of the Registrar: Changing Responsibilities in Light of Technology

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When considering the areas that pertain to enrollment management, it is fairly obvious that the Registrar’s Office plays a part. But just how strategic is the office in the efforts of an institution that is attempting to implement strategic enrollment management? Isn’t the office primarily responsible for maintaining accurate records and insuring compliance with curricular requirements? How can an office that focuses on records and compliance be a strategic part of institutional efforts to manage enrollment? I think a significant answer to that question lies in addressing assumptions about the role of the office within the institutional context. Let’s first take a look from an historical perspective to see how the role of the office has developed over time.

History

The role of registrar developed out of the faculty from the need to record and authenticate student educational records. In early universities, doing so required the production and validation of diplomas but progressed to the recording and validation of coursework in the form of transcripts. Producing accurate transcripts required tracking class rosters and eventually grades. At that time, the role of registrar was often given to a senior member of the faculty; someone to whom the responsibility for student records was delegated.

Throughout time, institutions have changed. As institutions of higher learning increased in size and scope, the need for professionalized staff for various student service functions also emerged. Gradually, the areas of student affairs emerged even though faculty were once almost exclusively responsible for these functions (being intimately involved in all aspects of students’ education). Gradually, student service functions were delegated to competent individuals and staff.

One problem with office functions such as registration and records is that, as they have moved further from direct faculty involvement, they have devolved at many institutions to be primarily clerical in nature. Student record data is received from admissions and is prepared for registration. Student registration data is received and class rosters are developed and maintained. Grades for classes are received and transcripts are produced. Transcripts are reviewed for completion of program requirements and degrees are awarded. Many of these functions are clerical in nature and require detailed and efficient processes to maintain accurate records of enrollment data. The interesting thing is that technological solutions now exist that allow software systems to do most of these basic clerical functions. If that technology is implemented, what then becomes the responsibility of registrar’s office staff?

Technology

With the advent technological solutions now part of today’s higher educational landscape comes opportunity to redefine the role of the office. In fact, it allows for the professionalization of the staff and responsibilities such that they serve a greater purpose for the institution and the education of students. Registrar staff are not only able to track record and registration data but use it effectively to guide student registration practices and advising; help faculty understand implications of curricular decisions; help interpret and implement policy and suggest changes that may better meet the intent of the educational philosophy of the institution.

There is a misnomer regarding technological solutions that often pervades our institutions today—that technology will reduce the need for staff. Rather, technological solutions rarely afford institutions the ability to reduce staff since staff must be present to manage the technological solution. Yet, upon implementation, these same staff can harness these solutions to deliver better service, better data, or better integration. They are also better equipped to partner with others at the institution to integrate the solutions with other solutions or programs at the institution, thus improving the educational delivery process.

Partnership with Faculty

This partnership is best displayed in the development and delivery of academic programs. Registrar staff, because they see students from start to finish of an academic program and the specific issues that students face in the enrollment process, can provide insights to faculty regarding the structure of their academic programs. Considerations such as course sequencing, registration processes, and student progress toward graduation can strategically affect the outcomes that an academic program might desire. These factors, when considered in program assessment and planning can improve program delivery and long term educational outcomes for students and the institution as a whole. However, such a partnership requires faculty to change their perspective about registrar staff and their role within the institution—moving from tactical to strategic partner in the delivery of education.

Unfortunately, not only do faculty often view registrar staff as relegated solely to clerical functions, but the staff themselves often see their role this way. A shift must occur where registrar staff see themselves as peers of academics and partners in the delivery of educational programs. This may mean changes to job descriptions and tasks, and may require that relationships with faculty and programs be intentionally fostered. In some cases, this may also require changes to the kind of people who fill registrar staff positions as it requires a different skill set than a position that is primarily clerical or technical. Such a change requires the ability to use the data at hand to help shape discussions and decisions in the context of relationships with faculty and academic staff.

Strategic Role with SEM

Registrar staff play a strategic role within the SEM organization at an institution primarily because of access to vast amounts of data that are needed to drive SEM efforts. However, that data is best utilized when seen through the lens of desired educational outcomes, something that can happen when partnerships exist between enrollment and academics. Registrar staff are uniquely suited to fulfill this role due to the crossroads within the institution where the position sits—between service to students and the academic programs that students pursue. However, for many institutions, fulfilling this role will require significant changes to the primary responsibilities of staff in the office as well as perceptions of the role by faculty. Nonetheless, such changes may be exactly what are needed by an institution in order to focus the office to play a strategic role in the institution’s enrollment efforts.

This article was authored by AACRAO Senior Consultant Dr. Reid Kisling.

Download this paper here: The Strategic Role of the Registrar: Changing Responsibilities in Light of Technology