The Mission of the Registrar’s Office is to Maintain Integrity
The registrar’s office is undergoing a shift, not necessarily leaving anything behind but taking on additional roles.
The registrar is in a unique position to celebrate students and build off the work they do to ensure the next cohort is even better.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What is the social mission of the modern registrar?
Michael Lorenz (ML): First, I think everyone at an institution shares and embodies a social mission consistent with the institutional mission. Beyond an institutional mission, though, are more universal possibilities for social good.
Any registrar’s departmental mission is, in a sense, to protect the integrity of the institution’s academics and records by rigorously adhering to established policies and processes (internal and external). But these are just table stakes.
A registrar is in a position uniquely suited to both positive action and change in an institution. They find themselves at the center of all activity, ideation and execution. They have a line of sight into almost every facet of the institution. As such, the thoughtful registrar will observe broader patterns earlier than most, and the responsible registrar will seek to drive positive change based on that. So, the registrar’s social mission begins with acknowledging their obligation to drive positive institutional change, not merely to protect long-held policy.
Evo: Why have we been slow to recognize it?
ML: I am not sure if we have been slow to recognize it. Many registrars I know are creative, thoughtful people who want things to be better. I think, though, that registrars often find themselves with small budgets, lots of work and without the cognitive surplus, spare time or institutional willingness to change. I will also admit that sometimes the registrar simply does conform to the rigid gatekeeper stereotype. Recent conversations have brought to light, however, some specific spheres of action that could be a catalyst for registrar action toward social good. Topics like stranded credit, for instance, highlight the opportunity for any registrar to spearhead action for social good, however that institution defines it.
Evo: What are some examples of process and policy changes to help execute on delivering this social mission?
ML: Again, the notion of stranded credit is a good one. There are a lot of issues to navigate here, to be sure. But the fundamental goal is finding a way to get students’ credit and credentials into their hands, so they can make use of them for transfer and/or employment. Draconian credit-hold policies increase student loan debt (i.e., they retake courses for which they might have had transfer credit). They prevent students from attaining the job the degree qualifies them for. Unless a state has passed legislation, an institution can find their way forward here in a way that suits them and promotes the social good we all believe education itself is. A registrar is perfectly suited to drive action here.
Other process/policy domains leading to social good—and dear to me—are rigorous but open-minded prior learning policies, simple and friendly stop-out/leave policies and perhaps even generous but meaningful badging, as when the student achieves something special like term academic honors. I should add that generous prior-learning policies and practices originate from a point of trust between the registrar and the faculty. Faculty own curricula and learning assessments, but trust-filled interactions have helped my office and our faculty collaborate to make the curriculum itself more open to prior learning and have created an efficient and effective evaluation process outside for-credit learning.
The registrar is, in addition to everything I said above, in a unique position to celebrate students. Any time we perceive our work to be constructive and positive, we are likely to partake in and foster the simplest social good: generosity of thought and action.
Evo: By the same token, what are a few areas where policy and process need to take precedence over student centricity?
ML: This is really a question of what student-centric means in practice. I suppose one could argue that any policy or process that protects students is ultimately student-centric, whether students always like the policy or not. Any policy that guards the academic integrity of the institution can be said to protect the value of the degree the student will one day earn. But we must be vigilant here; it’s generally easier to make policy to get stricter than otherwise. There are definitely immutable policies here, at least at the institutional level. Federal and state rules, for instance, are not within the scope of most registrars to change. However, they can thoughtfully strip away superfluous institutional accretions to yield a more student-friendly version.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Author Perspective: Administrator