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Role of the Registrars Office

Running head: The Role of the Registrars Office

The Role of the Registrars Office in Student


Success and Retention

Danielle Ambrose
Western Oregon University
Spring 2015

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Introduction
To a great extent the registrars office is seen as the hub of the university. It is where
information is recorded, data is stored and retrieved, policies are enforced, and much more. The
registrars office contributes a great deal to a universitys success as well as the success of
students. There are several ways university and student success are measured. For the university,
graduation and retention rates are the most common. Specifically student success is most
commonly measured by means of course grades, overall GPA, total credits, and time to
graduation. For simplicity this paper focuses on student success as it relates to retention rates.
In terms of retention, the vast majority of studies focus on the efforts of academic
advising on student success and retention. However, given the interaction the registrars office
has with the greater campus community (including academic and advising offices) it is realistic
and important to consider the offices impact on retention and student success. The role of the
registrars office has changed considerably since the office was first established. Record keeping
is still the primary focus, yet the role of the registrars office has transformed from a functional
data entry and maintenance role to a combination of functional and technical roles with a greater
focus on mining, assessing, and interpreting data.
Considering how the role of the registrars office has changed with regard to
functionality, as well as the changing needs of the twenty-first century university, it is essential
we reconsider what role the registrars office plays in student success and retention. The
importance of this consideration becomes apparent during critical assessments, such as proposing
initiatives for institutional assessment, addressing retention statistics, or developing student
success initiatives. According to Don Hossler (2006), [p]rivate institutions have long
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understood that it was in their best interest to retain matriculated students as a means of helping
to assure financial stability (p. 11). Hossler goes on to say that as state support has fallen and
tuition increased at public institutions, campus administrators have also become more
interested in student persistence and graduation rates (p.11). This is true in public universities as
well. For example, with the breakup of the Oregon University System and the slow, but eminent,
migration to independence, state universities in Oregon will experience firsthand this paradigm
shift. Another indicator of the importance of addressing student success and retention, at all
levels within the university, is that the future allocation of state funding will be based on
graduation rates (Hossler, 2006), and possibly other quantitative assessments of university
success. Regardless of the metric used, outcome based funding is now a reality in some states.
With this shift in perspective there will be a greater focus on how universities operate.
Communication, information distribution and access, data analysis, processes and policies, and
student services are areas most likely to hit the spotlight.

Communication and Information


The methods of distributing information along with the level of communication and the
use of technology to enhance both information and communication are common themes affecting
retention and student success. This is highlighted through student satisfaction assessment and
student expectations. According to Pikowsky (2012), it is important to consider the delivery
methods used by the registrars office to supply critical information regarding programs and
services. She goes on to say this will [ensure] that [students] learn how to do things such as
read a degree audit report, navigate the registration system, and apply for graduation (p. 53).
Clear, accurate, accessible, and meaningful information is key for student understanding. It is the

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registrar who can coordinate the availability of the information they are tasked with maintaining
(Blaney, 2009). Heverly (1999) notes that among the population of students surveyed in her
study, the lack of accurate information was the most common negative feedback received (p. 78). Tinto (1999), a leader in student success and retention research, insists clear and consistent
information is a driver for student persistence to graduation. With this in mind using technology
to ensure timely delivery of information is important to moving forward in the modern registrars
office. Blaney (2009) suggests, "we can use technology to push timely information based on
trigger events, and we can listen to student opinions and concerns (p. 54). She goes on to
declare that technology can be used to assist students from admission to graduation. As the
registrars office progresses and adopts more technology Kisling (n.d.) believes the office should
move in the direction of professional staff, as well as make a reassessment of office
responsibilities. He further suggests that the registrars office be held in higher consideration
within the institution regarding the education of students (p. 2).
Delivery methods, form and context, accuracy, clear and consistent information,
timeliness, as well as the structure and function of the registrars office itself are all factors which
field leaders consider critical for achieving student success and retention. With this in mind, and
considering how much of this information is monitored and controlled by the registrars office,
there is enough precedence to support the claim that the registrars office plays a significant role
in regards to student success and retention. In addition, technological solutions are a critical and
essential aspect of that role. In a January 2007 article posted to Inside Higher Ed, Diamond and
DeBlois state faculty departments rely on experts in technology, assessment, methodology, and
curricular design however they leave the registrar out of the equation when it comes to academic
changes. Diamond and DeBlois go so far as to claim that the omission of the registrars office
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from academic redesign can be costly for the institution. They specifically cite academic
progress and graduation rates as two areas which the registrar is a key player in making required
changes.
In the role of translator, arbiter, influencer, recorder, encoder, manipulator, and
implementer of academic policy, grading protocols and keeper of official transcript
records, privacy policies, enterprise information system architecture, real and virtual
classroom usage rules, and academic calendar parameters, the registrar is involved in a
wide array of campus activities below the radar of most faculty and many administrators.
The registrar, however, can play a vital role in academic innovation by providing
invaluable policy counsel and advice about the degree to which information systems can
be customized and ultimately, can grease the tracks of academic innovation. (Diamond &
DeBlois. 2007. para. 5)
The inclusion of the registrar, or more broadly the registrars office, can improve the success of
institutional changes from academics to technology. The insight brought to the table by the
registrars office can, according to Diamond and DeBlois, help to prevent inefficient and slow
progress towards needed change. The information alone is sufficient enough to warrant the
offices inclusion.
Communication and information are key aspects to successful efforts regarding student
success and retention. Whether it be through the delivery of information to students and campus
constituents, or the communication between key academic and non-academic players, without
open lines of communication; as well as the clear, transparent, and timely delivery of information
across the board; student success and retention efforts would fail. The keeper and enforcer of this

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information, the registrars office, is one of those key players and should be a driving force
behind cross-campus communication and collaboration in order to support student success and
retention.

Data Analysis
Data is key to institutional decision making as well. Since the registrars office is the
keeper of the data, data analysis is a key component in addressing the role of the registrars
office as it affects student success and retention.
Data analysis is a bit more transparent in connection with the role of the registrars office
in student success and retention. One of the main functions of the registrars office is to collect
and maintain information. There are several types of information managed by the registrars
office; student academic records, course records, academic program changes, and institutional
policies are just a few. According to Kisling (n.d.) the data collected by the registrars office can
be used to update processes and improve advising practices, identify possible effects of
curricular changes, and align institutional philosophy with policy and practice (pp. 2-3). Blaney
(2009) further supports Kislings claims identifying the strategic position of the registrars office
(p. 54). The information provided by the registrars office can be used to assess institutional
efforts surrounding policy and practice for the purpose of improving retention rates. Thus, the
registrars office becomes the provider of the data used by institutions to drive policy and
practice with the intent of improving student success and retention. Pace (2011) establishes that
[m]ost institutional decisions are data driven. Staff who understand the data elements and the
relationships among them help maintain the integrity of student data (p. 7). The effective use of
this data in reports and institutional decision making highly depends on the integrity of the
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student data collected and maintained. Therefore, as Pace asserts, it is important for the
registrars office to be staffed with members who can understand, extract, and interpret the data.
It is essential the registrars office is able to provide the data necessary to drive policy
and affect student retention. A more recent study revealed that there is significant emphasis on
using data to improve curriculum and course offerings. This is driven by the desire of students to
receive clear, concise, and correct information. A 2013 study by McMillan, Hardy, Smethers, and
Conner, addressed strategies used by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT) to improve
retention and graduation rates. Their main focus was to identify bottlenecks preventing students
from graduating within a specified period of time. A large portion of their study was directed at
course scheduling and student access to courses required for degree completion. Two of the main
issues were the lack of accountability for the scheduling of courses and the institutions inability
to access critical data for assessing changes in policy and practice. UT was able to remove two
bottlenecks through establishing policies, addressing accountability, and implementing a new
Student Information System (SIS) in addition to upgrading to a more advanced course
scheduling tool. They also established a task force designed to address utilization issues. These
changes resulted in a one percentage point increase in retention rates and a three point increase in
graduation rates over a two year period. This study shows a direct correlation between the
registrars offices role in data collection and analysis and student success and retention.

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Processes and Policies


Furthermore, the registrars office is built on processes and policies. It is important to
consider the effect these have on students. The assessment of current processes and policies can
uncover barriers and bottlenecks which impact student retention, success, and time to graduation.
The challenge of balancing policy and practice in the registrars office is no small feat.
This can be compounded when processes are out of date. Blaney (2009) and Kilgore (n.d.) both
speak to the need to bring the registrars office into the 21st century, referencing inconvenient
and inconsistent practices which in some cases are out of alignment with current policies and
institutional goals. Kilgore (n.d.) makes reference to poorly documented policies and procedures.
This supports earlier claims regarding the need for clear, accurate, and accessible information.
Advances in technology, if taken advantage of, can have a significant impact on
assessing, updating, and implementing processes and documented policies. Blaney (2009) states,
"the registrar can provide leadership by reviewing the effectiveness of academic policy and by
pointing out issues to the faculty" (p. 56). This is not as simple as it sounds. Heverly (1999)
references struggles surrounding this very issue, citing information on the percent of students
who are satisfied with interactions with the university. Looking at both returning and nonreturning students they were able to glean data to support the review of policy issues by the
faculty. The most important concept according to McMillan, et al. (2013) is to remove the
bottlenecks that impede student progress to graduation (p. 53). This not only points to
updating processes but also communication methods in addition to the presentation and location
of important information. The accessibility, clarity, and consistency of this information
encourage student persistence which, in turn, directly affects student success and retention.
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With the change in the role of the registrars office over the last ten years, it is important
to note that a shift has been made from managing records to managing processes and systems
(Lanier, 2006, p. 18). One significant problem is the ability to keep up with the changes in
technology and aligning those changes with previously established processes. According to
Diamond and DeBlois (2007), [m]any of the academic procedures and structures [registrars
offices] now use were developed in a time when colleges and universities were far different than
they are today (para. 8). In most cases the misalignment between institutional goals and the
processes put in place to help reach those goals, is a significant hindrance towards student
success and retention. There is sufficient evidence that processes often ask too much from
students, creating tension towards persistence, while out of date policies create barriers which
further discourage student persistence. One suggestion Kilgore (n.d.) identifies as a key focus
area for universities is addressing the alignment of existing policies and procedures in light of
student success and retention.

Service
Research on retention and student success point to concepts of connecting students with
the university. The quality of service a student receives in the registrars office can directly
impact this connection.
Todays traditional students, those who enter the university straight out of high school,
grew up in an age of technology. It would be easy to assume this would cause their focus, in
regards to technology, to be on the technology behind the processes. However, according to
Wager (2005), these students actually care more about the activity which the technology enables,
rather than the technology itself. With this in mind it is important to note once opportunities for
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improvement are presented, communication with key stakeholders is essential (Kilgore, n.d., p.
2), especially since students are almost always one of those key stakeholders.
Providing unified service depends on the relationship the registrars office has with the
technical resources available (Lanier, 2006). Since "process knowledge often resides in service
and academic silos or with individuals, rather than holistically across staff members and
departments" (Kilgore, n.d., p. 1) it is imperative that along with improving processes and
updating policies, universities also dedicate effort towards staff training in order to eliminate
those silos. Aside from the expectation of good customer service, students also expect quick and
easy solutions to their problems (Wager, 2005, p. 3-4). In order to accomplish this, the mission
of the registrars office must embrace technology.
The goal is for technology to become ubiquitous and invisible, but the registrars goal
remains a very visible one communicating, collaborating, and coordinating with people.
The mission of the registrar is to apply knowledge of the academic process and
technology to create an environment where faculty, administrators, and students can work
together. (Lanier, 2006, p. 19)
The rising expectations in service on all fronts, in alignment with the level of interaction the
registrars office has with students on a daily, monthly, and term basis, solidifies connection of
service to the role of the registrars office in regards to student success and retention.

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Summary
The role the registrars office plays in student success and retention regarding
technological solutions to support the delivery of information, communication, data analysis,
processes and policies, and service to students is important. The current leaders in this field
present a consistent argument for the type of support the registrars office should provide. The
registrars office can support student success and retention by effectively and efficiently
communicating clear and consistent information and utilizing technology to enhance those
communication channels. They can collect, maintain, assess, and distribute essential data needed
to support institutional decisions regarding student success and retention. The registrars office
must assess processes and policies which directly impact student progress towards a degree
addressing issues of alignment with institutional goals. Finally, the registrars office must
leverage technology to provide quality and efficient service.

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References
Blaney, B. R. (2009). The registrar and retention: A tribute to the dotted line. College &
University, 84(3), 53-57.
Diamond, R. M. and DeBlois, P. B. (2007, January 30). Dont forget the registrar. Inside Higher
Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2007/01/30/diamond
Frost, W. L. (1999). It takes a community to retain a student: The Trinity Law School model.
Journal of College Student Retention Research, Theory & Practice, 1(3), 203-223.
Heverly, M. A. (1999). Predicting retention from students experiences with college processes.
Journal of College Student Retention Research, Theory & Practice, 1 (1), 3-11.
Hossler, D. (2006). Managing student retention: Is the glass half full, half empty, or simply
empty?. College and University Journal, 81(2), 11-14.
Kilgore, W. (n.d.). Building student-centric processes A guide to business process analysis and
reengineering. AC Solutions. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from
http://consulting.aacrao.org/publications-events/publications/building-student-centricprocesses/
Kisling, R. (n.d.). The strategic role of the registrar: Changing responsibilities in light of
technology. AC Solutions. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from
http://consulting.aacrao.org/publications-events/the-strategic-role-of-the-registrar/
Lanier, D. C. (2006). The mission of the registrar today: A ten-year retrospective. College and
University Journal, 81(2), 15-19.

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McMillan, S. J., Hardy, J., Smethers, J., and Conner, A. (2013). Course scheduling as a strategic
initiative: Using technology tools and timetable data to enhance student success. College
& University, 88(4), 53-56.
Pace, H. L. (2011). The evolving office of the registrar. College & University, 86(3), 2-7.
Pikowsky, R. (2012). Student learning outcomes: The role of the registrar. College & University,
88(2), 53-56.
Tinto, V. (1999). Taking retention seriously: Rethinking the first year of college. NACADA
Journal: The Journal of the National Academic Advising Association. 19(2), 5-9.
Wager, J. J. (2005). Support services for the net generation: The Penn State approach. College &
University, 81(1), 3-10.

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