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Tapping Into a Registrar’s Many Identities to Foster Institutional Collaboration

As a department steeped in institutional policy while maintaining a direct and important tie to students, the registrar’s office is uniquely positioned to be a valuable collaborator across the institution. 

In my registrar world, I am often faced with situations where impactful institutional decisions must be made quickly and collaboration with the registrar’s office is sometimes an afterthought. (I am sure no one reading this can relate, right?) Now, with a background in advising and enrollment management, I completely understand why this is the case. New ideas are born, and these ideas will have a positive impact on the institution and most importantly our students. We must move quickly and swiftly toward developing a solution.

The registrar’s office is a support team, so the idea is that once a solution is developed, the registrar is then there to support its implementation, develop the operational elements, ensure decisions are in line with policy and help overcome any potential barriers related to technology or business processes. If the registrar team is not engaged prior to the decisions being made, it delays the project timeline, spurs the realization that the original idea may not work and creates frustration for the registrar’s office and university at large.

In today’s higher education arena, enrollment pressures, new modes of learning and transfer credit, and an expanded definition of the student require institutions to be agile in their approach to innovation. Shifting to understand what role a registrar’s office plays in achieving institutional goals may be key. Instead of defining a registrar by Webster’s definition that includes “registering students, keeping academic records, and evaluating credentials,” start thinking of a registrar team in terms of five main roles that need to be assumed in helping an institution achieve goals.


With any new ideas, projects or changes to existing business practices, a registrar team can review academic policies, official enrollment reporting and student record management to ensure we are creating practices that follow the letter of the law. Unfortunately, when grand ideas are brought to the registrar team and the team starts pointing to how the idea doesn’t fit within federal, state or institutional policies, it often appears as if we are not flexible or forward-thinking. This perception can often make collaborating across the institution and implementing new ideas challenging for all involved. However, the same facets that make working with the registrar’s office annoying are the same details that can ensure a project’s success and an efficient use of resources. It is the registrar’s job to abide by the relevant laws and policies.


As protectors of the Student Information System (SIS), it is imperative to tap into a registrar’s knowledge to ensure agreed-upon decisions can be reflected in a students’ record appropriately. Including this perspective early in the process can save issues around technology and process later. It is the registrar’s job to know what changes are possible and how they can be implemented.


When a decision is made to launch a new program, develop a partnership or create a pathway for students, registrars are poised to lead and move the operational pieces forward. From creating program coding in the SIS, adding information to the admissions application and figuring out what (if anything) needs to be changed with National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) reporting, a registrar team can guide on these important aspects. In the same vein, the registrar’s office must be vocal and educate others at the institution on what the needs are for any scenario. In many cases, the operational pieces are repeatable and, as others learn what steps need to be taken, it will become a natural course of action. It is the registrar’s job to operationalize changes and to gage how difficult the operationalization may be.

Problem Solvers

“This student called because they can’t enroll, and I cannot tell why from his record. Can you help?”

“A student does not understand why they are required to take these three courses. Would you be able to assist?”

“A student is disputing his grade change. What is the proper procedure?”

“We want to change the grading policy. What impacts might this have on students?”

“What role do microcredentials play in the industry? What approach should we take?”

Registrar teams are intimately familiar with policy, procedure and technology. This knowledge empowers the team to resolve issues, identify impacts when changes are recommended and find innovative ways to move the business forward. It is the registrar’s job to help others solve problems within existing processes and policies.


The registrar network runs wide and deep. As much as registrars work in black and white, they are also very familiar with the gray areas. In these instances, many of their colleagues across the country are facing similar challenges and diving into uncharted territory in the same way. This pool of resources can provide valuable insight and information. In addition, registrars by the nature of their role must work with third parties that support the institution, understand how technology can support the business and know higher education at the macro level. It is the registrar’s job to know how other institutions function and how the higher education landscape impacts their own institution.

As constituents start to understand a registrar’s position from these five roles, it completely changes the way someone might approach a collaboration with the registrar’s office and helps a registrar team proactively explain when their services need to be utilized. The registrar team is ready to tackle the sticky problems that emerge in an ever-changing higher education environment but is keenly aware of the limitations systems, policies and laws pose. As a result, the team is an invaluable partner in solutions becoming reality.