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Understanding the New Landscape of the Registrar’s Office

Long static in its technologies and processes, the registrar’s office is now increasingly data driven to effectively serve student and faculty needs.

The registrar’s office can’t remain static anymore. The new wave of modern learners is making higher ed leaders rethink the way things have been done over the past decade—particularly in the registrar’s office. In this interview, Rodney Parks discusses the changes he’s seen over the past decade, the collaboration it will take to make new strides and what we can expect to see moving forward.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How would you describe the registrar’s office current landscape, and how has it evolved over the past decade?

Rodney Parks (RP): We have seen innumerable changes to the way we work. The type of work we perform and the duties expected of us have grown considerably. Registrars have had a very static way of working. We followed calendar dates and processes rigorously, policies were written in stone and registrars would often say they were the gatekeepers of academic policy. Over the past decade, there’s been a tremendous growth like expanding academic records and moving to cloud-based systems.

In the past, registrars would say their systems couldn’t handle the workload. Now, we find a way to make it work. Before, staff would print transcripts. Now, a lot of those jobs are outsourced. The jobs needed within the office have grown to be non-exempt positions along the lines of technology—computer science, enterprise solution-type roles. That means building new systems, looking at data, launching enhancements to systems and marketing the work of today’s registrar.

Evo: What are some of the traditional strategies or beliefs within the registrar’s office that need to be improved upon to meet the needs of today’s learners?

RP: Staffing the modern registrar’s office is challenging. In the past, staffing a registrar’s office required very task-driven personnel, making changes and updating student systems manually. Today, these tasks are all done automatically, leaving long-term staff poorly equipped to do the type of work needed in a modern registrar’s office. Similarly, the people we need to hire must have more technical skills in line with a computer science background. When we think about the data-driven structures we are managing, creating and connecting a specialized skillset is required. For offices with low turnover, we’re left trying to retrain people hired to be processes driven, to now be data analysts and report writers. 

One of the biggest challenges we face is the influx of technology and the number of disparate systems that connect to the student mainframe. It’s a very different type of position, us needing to manage all these duties. I’ll add that turnover with the highest qualified positions tends to be much higher, and the salary necessary to land these personnel normally exceeds what is budgeted.

Evo: Are there additional challenges the registrar’s office is currently facing?

RP: Making sure you have the right systems in place is critical. Staff need to be able to shift their focus on things other than entering data points. The other challenge is policies. Most institutions shifted to faculty-centered shared governance models. The lack of a centralized committee structure has led what we normally see as standard processes to fracture. Changes to the curriculum and academic policies can easily be missed without systems to alert the registrar’s office of major changes. Traditionally an institutional curriculum committee would capture most changes, but there’s no guarantee with shared governance. A lot can be missed. With shared governance you have enumerable departmental curriculum committees, and you can’t expect the registrar to be everywhere. There’s a wealth of changes approved by faculty that flow to the registrar’s office, and you never want that phone call asking about something being missed. Modifying curriculum management systems to capture all these changes is essential to be a successful registrar.

Evo: What would be some of the best practices for registrars to help overcome some of these obstacles while improving staff efficiency?

RP: We must be willing to share knowledge. We have conferences—a great avenue for sharing information—but more is needed. Some schools are adapting quite well, and new third-party products can help registrars catalog and curate information effectively. It’s really about knowing what the best practices are in the field and who to ask for guidance.

It’s also important for us to market our needs to administration, so they understand the challenges we face as an office. Money must be sequestered to purchase new technologies to handle the workload and requests faculty make. We’re in an era of trying new things—new and innovative strategies and pedagogy with which faculty want to engage. The expectation is that registrars will figure it out and make it work. So being able to articulate that, following best practices and having strong relationships with faculty is essential.

Evo: What are some student engagement and retention trends you’re expecting to see in the next five years?

RP: Today we’re seeing a tremendous amount of work put forth on student recruitment and retention. We’re building a series of dashboards that alert institutions when students begin to disconnect. These dashboards can collect a wealth of data—from grades and course attendance to engagement with student groups and activities. Finding that engagement sweet spot that yields higher levels of retention is something all institutions are focused on these days.

As the student recruitment pool decreases, retention will charge to the forefront. There’s a lot of work being put into massaging data and using them to alert the registrar’s office to check in on a student who may be disengaging. It’s about looking at the data and using them to guide retention efforts. Dare I say institutions start tracking student attendance based on campus location? 

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add?

RP: I expect to see more involvement with blockchain. You’re also going to see more work with standardizing data transfers for not only traditional academic data but also co-curricular data. There’s going to be a lot more work in electronic data exchange in these areas over the next few years.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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