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How Degree Completion Tracking Saves Can Save Both Time and Money

Standardized systems that were discussed two decades ago could finally be rolled out today and drastically increase efficiency and student experience.
Standardized systems that were discussed two decades ago could finally be rolled out today and drastically increase efficiency and student experience.

Technology has changed our lives in more ways than we can count—our professional lives especially. Things that used to take days can happen in minutes, and we’ve all become more interconnected than ever before.

For the registrar’s office, that means more access to records, information and students themselves.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How is technology expanding the role of the registrar?

Heather Bjorgan (HB): Well, the registrar’s role has evolved from primarily a record-keeping entity into more of an influential service office. And technology is what has driven that course through its evolution. By incorporating technological advances, the registrar is able to provide increased service to students, faculty and administration. Information technology, where it’s aligned really well with the institution’s needs and organizational structure, could be a powerful tool. But tech alone does not make that change. It’s about managing technology within the institution and its strategic relationships with the IT office and information technology or the institutional research IR office, whatever that equivalent is, with functional services, like the registrar’s office, to get a positive outcome. The registrar leading the development of campuswide systems that tie academics and administrative functions together, and they have a long history of records management. They are a really good resource for validating data and seeing how things flow in and out of the system. That’s really how I think about technology’s rapid change just in the 22 years since I’ve been in high school.

Evo: Where have you seen the biggest technological shift in the last few years?

HB: The biggest advance in the last couple years is probably in degree completion tracking, degree pathways and being able to take what’s in a catalog, sit with a student, and say, “Here’s your program. Some of this is lockstep. With some of these, you have options.” The technology to be able to really drill down and help a student understand where they are in their program, where they are going and what they have left, saving them time and money with that understanding. Those have been some of the biggest advances I’ve seen because programs are very different among institutions—private college, undergraduate, community college, graduate, etc.

Evo: So, why is now the time to be having conversations about the registrar’s changing role?

HB: It’s been happening a lot over the last 20 years. The equilibrium has been punctuated. There’s been a lot of growth really fast, and you kind of have to hang on. Another chunk of growth obviously came with the internet around the year 2000. We’ve progressively become more and more advanced on that front. That has been a big driver, but I think the registrar’s office is one of the few offices with a general purpose. It works with a broad spectrum of people. They’ve got almost every student touching the system, whether it’s online registration, phone calls, emails, that kind of thing. So, they work with students, faculty and staff, and our financial aid relies on their accuracy.

It’s really like a hub there. Technology has changed that office because we needed changes from financial aid, from curricula. It all comes together in the registrar’s office. And our students have driven it as well. We have savvier students now than we did pre-pandemic, who understand how to be an end user and use technology, and their expectations have changed. When they’re applying to colleges, they’re looking online at what the responses, emails and things are coming from colleges, and if we as a college don’t have a certain look or response rate in line with their expectations, they’re just not going to enroll. We’re going to see them fall out of our funnel. They’re going to go somewhere else where they see that kind of technology.

Evo: What can an institution do to really engage with a student on that level and be more student-centric, more personalized in their daily operations?

HB: Not to sound cliche, but it comes down to listening to students in a lot of different ways, whether through surveys, support groups, focus groups. Gen Z is entering community college, and they are very savvy. We’ve also got post-traditional students in their forties or fifties changing careers or keeping up with demand. And that’s not a population that has the same level of understanding with tech. It depends on your institution. You better understand who you’re trying to attract. You have to know what you are really trying to increase. And then the institution has to respond to that. We have to design things that help, that attract, that have something for everybody. It’s not just going to be a one-and-done kind of a situation. If you’ve got that kind of population, you have to attract a wide range and cast a wide net.

Evo: What are the areas of the registrar’s office where you have seen the biggest improvements with technology and automation?

HB: One of the most technologically advanced things that I think is really cool is transcript evaluation from other institutions. Being able to scan a transcript from somewhere else, not your own institution, and allow it to do that first read and understand X class at their institution would be Y class at my institution, that is a timesaver for sure. That stuff started hitting the market about 15 years ago, but it’s gotten a lot better through AI. And it’s just been amazing to see how far it’s come. A lot of configuration and design go into making that work. But once you hit a group of students transferring from the same place, it becomes easy to complete transcript evaluations. Especially if you’re a four-year and it’s from your local community college—if you have that transcript configured, you could get it through pretty fast. And I think transcript evaluation is probably one of the bigger areas where I’ve seen tech be a real timesaver.

Evo: Could there eventually be a standardized system for this to occur between institutions?

HB: Oh yeah, I remember conversations like 20 years ago about how to leverage a clearinghouse. Even states, they were talking about school transcripts being standardized for all 12th graders through the same system. I’m not sure any state has done this, but that conversation has happened for a long time. And it just comes down to institutions wanting a little more control over how they present their students to other institutions, other places.

Evo: Are there any areas specifically where the registrar’s office has taken on a larger role?

HB: As strategic enrollment management or SEM has increased over the last few years, it has helped resolve college issues. I still run into that being a surprise for some folks. They have the ability to access to all data, but there’s an intuitiveness to whether something is right or wrong that comes with being a registrar. They’re uniquely suited to fulfill this role because they’re at that crossroads of academics and understanding our programs, who’s in what program and where the speed bumps are for students in these programs—they see where those things happen.

You ask a registrar, “What are the most frequently dropped classes?” They’ll list the top five off the top of their head. So, they have that intuitive knowledge. They can really contextualize the data we have. Frequently, we have a blizzard of data, but we don’t know what’s important to look at. And the registrar is helpful in funneling that effort, so it makes a little bit more sense to look at. Maybe that’s not where you end up looking, but they can at least kind of give that context to go look somewhere. And that’s incredibly important to an SEM process. And they have that clerical history, you know, and because of that, they see a lot.

This interview was edited for length and clarity

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