Realizing the Full Potential of Registrar-Department Collaboration in Higher Education
Higher ed has seen many changes recently, and the registrar’s office has not been spared. Its work is just as important today, but the advancement of technology has created the need to adapt processes to align with the rest of the institution. In this interview, Michelle Rabble discusses the evolution of the registrar’s office, why collaboration is critical across the institution and how to improve student retention.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What role has the registrar’s office traditionally had, and how has it evolved in recent years?
Michelle Rable (MR): The role of the registrar’s office had definitely evolved over the years. Although many of the core functions still lie at the heart of what we do, we have changed how we do many of these functions. We still are the official academic record keeper. We still process transcripts, graduate students, prepare course schedules, verify enrollment, make sure policies are adhered to and many other functions, depending on the institution.
But many of these processes have been streamlined through technology, which has made the registrar’s office the central hub for information and the technology around that information. I often tell people, the registrar’s office acts like the heart of the institution.
From the moment we admit and register a student, through their academic career and after they graduate or leave, we are responsible for the information and the data flowing seamlessly and accurately to all our campus partners and our students. The student information is sent or pumped to the various departments or organs in order to function for our student. We have become the data hub of information, and we know how to maintain those and what they mean.
Evo: Why is it important for departments across the institution to collaborate with the registrar’s office?
MR: Collaboration with and from the registrar’s office is very important for the institution. Registrar’s offices are the institutional change agent. The registrar team knows how to make miracles happen! We know where to go and who to go to. The registrar’s office knows the details behind the structure of the Student Information System. We understand and know the policies—and how those policies impact processes.
The registrar’s office is the institutional historian, as they will likely know when the policy started and how it was put in place. The registrar’s office is the policy regulator and understands the impact of this role in accreditation.
On the flip side, the registrar’s office will also know how to work within these policies to achieve outcomes. If an academic department is planning a new degree or program, reaching out to discuss with the registrar’s office to discuss degree requirements will save headaches and time. The registrar’s office can review a program and understand the impacts on the degree audit. They will be able to help adapt the degree audit function for the student and make sure requirements can be accurately tracked in the system.
They can also advise on potential barriers or issues arising from vaguely worded requirements, which prevents department and student frustration when using the degree audit. Administrative departments’ collaboration is especially important when setting up a new piece of software that needs to integrate with the Student Information System (SIS). The registrar’s office understands the SIS and the details behind the SIS fields. For this reason, it’s imperative to have the registrar’s office on the implementation team.
Evo: What are the challenges that come with collaboration?
MR: There can be several challenges with collaboration such as communication and inadequate flow of information, institutional silos, trust, lack of common goals and too many meetings with no results.
Communication and inadequate flow of information combined with institutional silos present some of the larger challenges for collaboration. Departments often focus on their own area and objectives; we all may become focused on our own challenges or processes and just want to resolve the issues associated with them.
As a result, we potentially lose sight of the impact of our actions on other areas. If we do not involve, we may adequately resolve one issue while inadvertently creating ten more. There needs to be input from various areas or departments to proactively identify unknown consequences.
A good example would be if a department has purchased a third-party system and needed to integrate it with the Student Information System. It would take resources from the registrar’s office, even if the vendor says it will be a seamless integration. The registrar’s office knows the data, how they will be used and where they will be in the SIS.
There needs to be collaboration with the registrar’s office to make sure they set aside time in their own project timelines to assist with implementation, as well as research the data the third-party system will need. There are times we get caught up in having meetings about what we need to do and never get to the actual part of doing, which may lead to frustration. And departments do not want to keep talking. They want to get it done! There needs to be a respectable balance of discussion and getting the actual work done for our students.
Evo: What are some best practices to overcome these obstacles?
One of the most important practices is having a clear communication channel with regular check-ins, which allows for feedback and input in processes. Here at Bowling Green State University, it became apparent during the pandemic that we were all working to do the best possible for our students.
However, we realized we were also assuming and crossing messages to our students. One department was unaware of what the other departments were doing, many times not even realizing the impact they had on other areas. We then established what was called our Tuesday Morning Communications Meeting, which led to collaborative and impactful discussion and are still occurring.
In these weekly meetings, we have broad representation across several administrative offices including directors of admissions, bursar, financial aid, marketing and brand strategy, residence life, student success, advising, orientation, dean of students and registrar. We share what is going on in our offices, new practices, system upgrades and updates.
One example of the impact these meetings have occurred when our marketing and brand strategy team developed a strategic communication plan that everyone in these meetings has access to. Everyone involved can see what communications are going out to students along with the delivery method—email, text, digital, social—and the date. We make a purposeful attempt to have this meeting every Tuesday morning, and if we have nothing to share or discuss we end the meeting. This way, we don’t take up unnecessary time, and we can all move on to other areas that need attention.
It’s a fantastic example of overcoming communication and silo obstacles! Here at Bowling Green State University, we all have a common goal of student success, and this is just one way we collaborate to impact our students in a positive way. Our teams are informed, and our students are informed for success.
Evo: What impact does collaboration have on student enrollment and retention?
MR: Collaboration has a significant impact on student enrollment and retention. If offices do not collaborate, there will be unintended barriers for students. Higher education is a confusing landscape for students to navigate. We should be finding ways to work together to eliminate this confusion, not add to it.
If we collaborate to develop cohesive and inclusive processes and paths for students, each student will feel they are at an institution where the community supports them. Of course, there are several pieces impacting student enrollment and retention.
However, if offices work together to understand each other’s processes and the impacts those processes have on other offices, we can become more efficient for our students. Students do not want to take time to run through the administrative maze, and they frankly should not have to.
For example, if we in the registrar’s office do not work with advising on something as simple as course schedule availability for a term, students will be reaching out to advisors who were not afforded the opportunity to prepare. This lack of preparation will lead to frustration for both advisors and students.
Logically, a student would wonder why or how their advisor did not have this information. It may lead a student to doubt the integrity of the process. By sharing information and working together, we can provide a more succinct experience for our teams and our students. These better experiences will deliver increased enrolled and retention.