Enhancing Communication and Clarity: A Collaborative Approach with the Registrar’s Office
Despite changes in higher education over the past decade, many of the things for which the registrar’s office has historically been responsible remain present with modern approaches. Registrars today are quick on their feet and ready to serve, while being planted in the institution’s academic policies and procedures. We continually reassess how to efficiently manage and accomplish our work to best serve our many constituents, while seeking to understand our student populations’ needs and expectations. It is no longer acceptable to know and recite policies and procedures, the registrar’s team adds value by deeply understanding and articulating the why and how of the institution’s guiding principles.
The Evolution of the Registrar’s Office
The registrar’s own thought process has also evolved and broadened, for our leadership and accountability now extends beyond these historical responsibilities. The registrar benefits the university through proactive communication, deep organization, forward-thinking, advanced planning, mindful investment in technology, interdepartmental collaboration and a service orientation that prioritizes student success and understanding.
Embrace the student experience and expectations
While registrars create organized systems to accomplish the university’s academic processes according to the proper timelines, we also challenge ourselves to plan with contingencies, flexibility and clarity. We think critically from the end-user orientation and train registrar team members to do the same, creating efficiencies and preparing in advance for outlying situations that will undoubtedly arise. We embrace that individualization and customization are now learner expectations and plan accordingly.
Like vital gears in a large and complex machine, the registrar team continually considers inputs and outputs, keeping the academic machine humming along smoothly and on schedule. Though all at the institution rely on academia’s predictable processes, the registrar’s office alone knows the work necessary to present each evolving process as smooth and efficient, while honoring institutional policies and procedures. And we find satisfaction in knowing that our work impacts and benefits the academic experience for all.
The Importance of Cross-Departmental Collaboration
The registrar’s office has a central role in the university’s educational mission if we choose to accept it. Registrars help our own team members understand our value to campus conversations and train on the expected approach to working with other departmental representatives. It is a unique responsibility and privilege to naturally interact with all constituents—students, faculty, administration, alumni and the public—and all university departments. Consequently, few teams have the registrar office’s breadth of campus interaction or influence. We want to be consulted because of our problem-solving abilities, positive attitude and ability to explain policies and procedures on a level that garners understanding.
Network on campus
Though many registrars lean toward introversion in personality and may relish focused times of concentration, such times are unusual during most weeks of the academic year. Instead, registrars continually build campus-wide relationships, schedule and lead meetings, advocate for improvements and efficiency, solve challenges and network with others in the profession. In so doing, we build institutional knowledge beyond our own areas, uniquely understanding and helping to interpret the interconnected nature of university life. When we know and are known by others on our campus, they are more likely to include us in conversations.
When included, registrars help make a way where there seems to be none, creating forward paths amid what may appear to be a web of confusing and complex institutional procedures. A well-networked registrar understands interdepartmental considerations and impacts, thereby serving as a trusted resource when problem solving or collaborating on new initiatives. Just as the university student experience is holistic, the registrar’s experience is also holistic.
The Challenges of Collaboration
Finding time for collaboration is often one of the biggest challenges. We’ve all seen and related to the coffee mug sentiment, “I just survived a meeting that could have been an email.” Schedules are consistently tight and employees in all areas of higher education are experiencing added responsibilities with fewer staff and resources. Yet collaboration requires interaction, and an effective leader determines how best to approach situations while valuing all participants’ time and considering the ease of facilitating connection. Face-to-face meetings may be required, yet we now have the additional options to collaborate via chat, video, email and systems such as Microsoft Teams or Asana.
Campus colleagues are usually happy to engage when they consider themselves important to a conversation and realize their commitment has an endpoint. For example, calling a collaborative group a task force, rather than a committee, sends signals of a short-term project with a group of invested subject matter experts. Often sharing documents ahead of a meeting facilitates informed conversation, and one-on-one meetings prior to the collective conversation can be helpful.
Think: heads up
Often the registrar’s work involves mostly heads-down days where tasks comprise much of our schedule. Yet we must intentionally prioritize a heads-up mentality, regularly considering how our area’s responsibilities interface with those of other departments, especially with the shared goal of effective and efficient student service. To be invited to others’ tables, we must actively show that we value their input. Be the person who spearheads collaboration by calling a colleague to ask for advice or solicit information.
Tell your story
Registrars recognize that we are rarely a highlighted office on campus, but we also may assume that others quietly understand the importance of our work in the various seasons of the academic year. In actuality, the institution’s leadership and colleagues may have given little thought as to how the registrar’s office keeps the institution’s gears moving smoothly until we face a rough spot or even a pause. In my over 15 years as a registrar, I’ve realized that unless I continually find opportunities to tell our team’s story as part of the institution’s story, most seem to assume that academia continues to churn along without needed attention. When we explain our varying priorities at different seasons of the academic year, raise the need for resourcing and ask for assistance with challenges, we invite others to partner with us in these efforts.
Registrars find ways to stay current with higher education conversations, particularly subjects affecting academics and our roles. Seek out best-practice resources, such as those from AACRAO and regional groups, while learning the why and how of your own institution’s practices, policies and procedures. Take the time to invest in your own professional development and in that of your staff. If funds are short, build in staff professional development days, perhaps with another department. Effective registrars prioritize strong communication and collaboration in their own department by sharing information learned in meetings and echoing any shout-outs the registrar may have received on behalf of the team. We also benefit by creating opportunities to learn from our students by hosting focus groups about our processes and services (with complimentary coffee-shop beverages, if possible).
Build relationships now
Be intentional in getting to know the key persons in areas on the periphery of your own responsibilities and planning. Ask questions, problem solve together and learn from each other. Knowing and honoring others’ procedures and policies paves the way for collaborative conversations on even the most sensitive of subjects, while preventing misinterpretation or unintentionally veering into a colleague’s lane. Those with whom we choose to collaborate can quickly become trusted advisors. When we see ourselves as serving together and focusing on shared goals, everyone benefits and honest conversations thrive.
Collaboration on Student Enrollment and Retention
Efficient and simple processes
Keeping students engaged, invested and knowledgable of their own roles and responsibilities are key factors in student retention. Students seek straightforward paths that will help them achieve their goals on their timelines. An otherwise healthy student experience can be tainted by frustration when campuses do not keep technology and processes somewhat aligned with what students experience in their lives beyond academia. Likewise, faculty expect clarity and efficiency in processes that require their input or action, for they often engage to benefit a student. Registrar teams thereby work proactively and collaboratively to create these clear and efficient systems and to deliver options when one strays from the prescribed path. We must be cautious not to rely solely on our own procedural preferences. For aspects we may consider built-in, flexibility can instead create complexity for a student, causing the student to be unsure how to proceed. If our team repeatedly hears about a particular challenge or continually receives the same question, it is time to review that process for simplicity and clarity from a student’s perspective.
Effective communication is a critical aspect of education, and communicating well today requires creativity and proactivity. We want students to have ownership of their educational experiences while paving the way for their success. Though it is a student’s responsibility to follow communicated instructions and timelines, it is our responsibility to communicate these clearly, concisely, and engagingly for them to take notice. It is far preferable for a student to receive both initial and reminder notices about an approaching deadline than for the student to report that they were uninformed. As we plan and implement processes, we can no longer assume that a student knows where to locate information on their own and we must consider when and how they may need help.
Registrars can impact enrollment and retention by participating in new student orientation and joining in on other conversations designed to prepare students. Though academic lingo is familiar to registrar teams, phrases such as drop/add and withdrawal are often new to students. Likewise, undergraduate students may have experienced a culture of test retakes and extensions, leading them to consider due dates as suggested, not firm. By communicating clearly and preparing students to meet true deadlines, the registrar’s team participates in educating students while also preparing them for life beyond graduation. Again, what a responsibility and what a privilege it is to impact the lives of students.