Why PCO Units and the Registrar’s Office Need to Collaborate
Departments across the institution are often siloed, leading to duplicated work and miscommunication. Building tight partnerships with colleagues across campus allows for more strategic initiatives that can better meet modern learner needs and create a more seamless experience. In this interview, Stacy Chiaramonte and Sarah Miles discuss how they’re able to collaborate between their departments, the obstacles they face along the way and the overall benefits to the institution.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is it important for Professional, Continuing and Online (PCO) leaders to collaborate with the registrar’s office when it comes to developing and launching innovative program models?
Stacy Chiaramonte (SC): When we started, we didn’t have a collaborative relationship with our registrar in place, and we felt that pain. When you serve a different student, you want to be innovative and flexible to respond to that learner’s needs.
Your registrar is your ally. A decade ago, we thought we were better off not talking to them because they would tell us what we can’t do—a legacy issue in higher ed. So, we started looking into some standardization. When I began working with Sarah, we found the opportunities that we could work on with a standard system.
Sarah Miles (SM): Registrars can often serve the role of saying, “We can’t go outside these guidelines.” Things are orderly and in their boxes, but we serve all students. And that’s anyone touching our campus and having some educational experience. It’s absolutely a collaboration, and it’s our job to figure out how to make the pieces fit together. Without including our voice in the mix, then we’ll continually be frustrated, which doesn’t serve anybody. So, it’s all about collaboration.
Evo: What are some common obstacles you’ve faced in building tight partnerships between the PCO unit and registrar’s office?
SM: In the structural piece of it, it has to do with the start and end of classes. Anything that’s credited falls under the same rules and regulations as other degree-seeking students. Once you get credits in there, then we start running into issues.
SC: It’s all about unique scenarios that PCO units present. They run courses on different schedules and at different lengths. We charge ahead with getting students in, and we’re bound to have conflicts because we’ll miss something that should’ve been done a certain way in a certain order.
We noticed that if you start a student on October 15, then they won’t get reported to IPEDS. Census data is critical and PCO units don’t operate in a traditional standard metric system. So, we had to do some learning there.
SM: The other piece is that a strong tenant of any policy needs to apply to everyone. If students are chatting with each other, they might question why someone was allowed to do something and the others were not. So, when you’re making policies and procedure decisions, they must apply to all.
Evo: What are some best practices or advice you’d share with PCO leaders trying to build tighter partnerships with the registrar’s office?
SC: Ask questions of your registrars and involve them. The inclination is often not to bring registrars in the loop because of what they might say, but it’s much better to involve them. Having their feedback on concepts can bring ideas to fruition. And we compromise and collaborate.
You must be willing to be flexible and share ideas. We had a major student information system change over two years of development. Those conversations were necessary to ensure we had the right system for our credit and noncredit students.
Evo: In the process of designing a new SIS for CE, why did it make sense to launch a new system for CE, rather than trying to make the main campus system work?
SM: We went to a new student system, and we’re still working on the growing pains from a traditional front. We felt we weren’t going to be able to serve the CE population with the same system. It was like fitting a square peg in a round hole.
This was a simple and easy solution. We put the basic structure in place, and now it’s ready to use when we need it. Traditionally in higher ed, everything is in one system. But we’re moving away from that, so we can have a system specific for the PCO units’ needs.
Evo: What advice do you have for other registrars looking to build better partnerships with their PCO colleagues?
SM: Go into everything with an open mind. The more you put yourself out there, the more information you’ll get ahead of time. With that, you can help shape the conversation. We’re here to serve the students. We’re in charge of process flow and records, so we want to help shape that student journey from beginning to end.
SC: A few years ago, we started monthly meetings where we’d get our teams together and just go through the various things we’ve been experiencing and talk through them. They help us find ways to do things differently or more efficiently. There’s a good collaboration there, as we look for ways to not only support the students but also our colleagues.
Evo: What are the benefits and drawbacks in the environment where CE and main campus are replicating processes but also serving different learners?
SM: The biggest challenge is ensuring we’re communicating. There are things in the registrar’s office that we’re doing on a larger scale in terms of publishing courses and ensuring schedules are ready. So, we have to make sure we’re aligned on what’s going on, what’s needed and who’s responsible for what.
What’s great is that we can coordinate, for example, undergrad classes that graduates can take, making sure the classes start at the same time as their traditional courses. It’s better for students when everything is together, and that’s something that we try to do.
SC: We just try to be transparent and show everything what we’re working on. PCO units tend to serve more than just PCO students, but we don’t have enough resources. So, we’re very open and transparent, so we can collaborate and help each other when needed.
We also don’t blame each other. Often, people will point fingers when something doesn’t go just right, but we can’t be doing that. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll find a solution. Don’t take it personally and focus on how you can make it better. You can decide to be more collaborative, get on a path and work through it.
Author Perspective: Administrator