The Role of the Registrar: Retention, Student Success, Innovation

Published

August 18, 2020

Author

Jimmy Montchal

Categories

Coursedog News

“The work of the registrar touches every student and nearly every corner of your institution. An effectively functioning registrar’s office is critical to the vitality of your academic programs and the success of your students.” --  AACRAO Consulting

The Registrar’s Role in Retention and Success During COVID-19

Registrars are in for a wild ride for the next year, according to Elon University Registrar Rodney Parks. “It’s been challenging for all of us,” he says. “At Elon, our students left for spring break and never returned. We’ve been thrust into online learning, with our instructors having only one week to prepare. Elon is not an online university, so, it’s a disruptive time for instructors not used to teaching experientially in an online environment.”

“Because of the belief that online learning is not the same as on-campus learning, if we are still online in the fall, students may take a gap semester or transfer to a local community college,” explains Rodney. “In the past, we’ve offered students a leave of absence under special circumstances, like a medical issue. This is another one of those times, so we will grant leave while reaching out and keeping those students engaged.” For Rodney, the key is meeting students where they are, and educating and incentivizing faculty to build online instruction skills.

Keeping Students Safe on Campus

Elon’s intent this fall is to be back on campus, according to Rodney. For most part, the university hopes to get students on campus and isolate them, with limited trips off campus, to keep them safe. And that affects time-honored traditions, like parents’ weekend, international study, and the academic calendar.

“We’re talking about removing fall break and sending students home for Thanksgiving,” adds Rodney. Elon is still looking at its study abroad courses as being a go for 700 of its students, but maybe not for an entire semester. And just in case it’s cancelled, the university has loaded enough courses and sections to accommodate those students.

To keep students safe on campus, Rodney suggests creating more space in the classroom for distancing, adding time between classes, and cleaning rooms before each class. He also recommends offering hybrid instruction where, for example, a class of 32 students, where 16 meet in the classroom on Monday and online on Wednesday, alternating for the other 16 students.

First-year Students

Because it’s especially challenging for our incoming freshmen, who want more time to make a decision, we’ve connected with them early,” Rodney explains. “We released the academic catalogue and encouraged students to build their course schedule. And we’re allowing students to skip submitting SAT/ACT scores for admission. We’ll use their GPA and other ways of evaluating student success.”

Some incoming students have been interested in attending summer school prior to complete matriculation in the fall. “It’s key to add the right sections based on the students’ specific requirements,” Rodney explains. “We encourage them to get ahead by declaring two majors or a second minor, working toward two degrees, or planning for an early graduation. When the incentives (offerings and cost) are there to take summer courses at Elon, they won’t turn to a less-expensive community college.”

Online Still an Option

Some faculty with medical conditions can’t return to campus, so they’ll continue to teach online. “We’ve challenged our faculty to think creatively using experiential learning,” reports Rodney. “Our expectation is a lot more engagement using synchronous rather than asynchronous learning. We’ll provide LMS training for both faculty and students before classes begin.” Other key elements to support online learning include maintaining standards, using faculty observers, having course design experts review classes, and using all available technology for creating and delivering classes. According to Rodney, most faculty welcomed the challenge and are working to develop new skills.

Faculty Resources

This summer, Rodney funded faculty development, including incentivizing language faculty to learn great practices for teaching online, develop a course a year early, pay for guest speakers to help with course design, and offer courses online that are not historically offered that way.

“Online learning is different but equal,” Rodney explains. “It’s still outstanding education, but you have to hold people accountable. Encourage relearning and learning new skills, but understand that for the majority change is uncomfortable. Lifelong learning should be for everyone.”

What Registrars Can Do

Here are some tips for registrars to make the most of summer school:

  • Think creatively: find new revenue sources, reward faculty for teaching a course, build new resources. 
  • Understand what courses students need to meet a requirement.
  • Give courses unique titles, which are shown to attract students.
  • Invite faculty to teach a variable course (for example, 1-4 hours, with 4 hours for core curriculum or just 1 credit hour to gauge interest).
  • Encourage faculty to consider teaching about their passions.
  • Have faculty to work in teams to promote collaboration (with a small stipend).

The Registrar’s Office as a Bastion of Student Success

According to Temple University Registrar Bhavesh Bamhbrolia, every school has some student success initiative. It’s a widely studied topic focusing on drop out rate, study progress, perceived competence, employability, academic achievement, meeting a specific GPA requirement, and graduation.

“From the university perspective, there are two main concepts at the heart of student success: curriculum planning and course scheduling,” explains Bhavesh. “After all, without a valid academic program and appropriate courses offered in a timely manner, students can’t move forward.”

Driving Change

Temple University had a major initiative centered around graduation, with a mandate to modernize office operations and a team looking for change. The registrar’s office decided to go big,

“In 2014, we were generating over 100K transactions annually as a paper pushing, inefficient office busy with menial tasks” Bhavesh explains. “The situation was unsustainable, costly, and time consuming. A lot of tasks really didn’t need our personal attention, so there were lots of opportunities for automation and efficiency.”

At Temple, planning was formerly done from the top level down to implementation, with tactics delegated to individual offices. So, the goal was the reverse: planning around central mandates up to organizational mandates. “We wanted to very intentionally and transparently break tradition and make innovations, with all activities supporting our mission statement and goals,” Bhavesh reports. “On an operational level, we wanted to transform from processing transactions to managing process. From a cultural perspective, we needed to position our office as a valued resource, and technologically we wanted to innovate imaginative solutions.”

Creating a Framework

Efficient people and process, effective technology, and meeting customer needs made up the framework of change for Temple. Borrowed from the healthcare industry, the path was to demonstrate efficiency by reducing decision time or involvement in transactions, making sure it was not just limited to the registrar’s office but expanded to other areas.

There were several big ideas, according to Bhavesh. “We used Friday forums to build a new mindset, Project Stella to build data infrastructure within the office, and Project Atlas to modernize and interconnect our services, doing away with the concept of silos.”

And there was what the group called The Jedi High Council, made up of ITS, student financial services, and academic affairs staff – 17 in all. “All critical things from an operational perspective were shared and addressed,” explains Bhavesh. “Our synergy was so great that we drove a lot of changes leading to efficiency not just in our office but also for others. The team was very motivated, interested in making changes, and supportive of each other. We continue our meetings to this day.”

Seeking Opportunities

For Bhavesh, systems and processes should be oriented around regulatory compliance, student success and customer service, operational efficiency, and graduation (fly in 4). “We maximized improvements by looking at what came before and after, says Bhavesh. “For example, we implemented digital diplomas and other credentials with Parchment, and looked at the benefits gained to see how to make credentialing in general more valuable.” Other opportunities included hyper-personalizing priority registration notification and using technology to simplify and minimize decision making.

Mission-Driven Approach

According to Bhavesh, the key is doing things intentionally, eliminating barriers so all activities contribute to student success. “We identified efficiencies and pursued change. We renovated our office to create a more collaborative work environment, and designed decision-making tools for students, turning our office into a sandbox for them. Everyone has a piece of the action for student success.”

“While no one university office can solve the student success problem on its own, the registrar’s office plays a vital role directly and indirectly: shifting the office mindset, building realistic goals, thoughtful planning, communicating and sharing with others, and taking a holistic approach,” he concluded.

Resources for Registrars

“On any campus, it takes a village to turn ideas into action. But we should recognize that at the center of enrollment and employment pathways is the registrar, whose evolving role encompasses challenging and important work with transformational impact.” – Matthew Pittinsky, Parchment CEO, Inside Higher Ed 


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