Focusing on Service in the Registrar's Office - Part 6: Staffing and Organizational Structure

J. James Wager, Consultant & Education Strategist

June 26, 2017

Staffing and organizational structure of the Registrar’s Office is a challenge for even the most seasoned professional.  The driving issues are the number of students, organizational structure of the school, assignment of functional responsibilities, budget, and level of staff experience.  As well as responding to the often-directed mandate, “Do more with less.”

One very interesting observation of the approximate 4,500 colleges and universities across the country is that there may be roughly 4,500 unique organizational structures of the Registrar’s Office.  There is a very real tendency to organize exactly as needed by the school.  Not a bad tendency at all, but one that requires some generalization when speaking to this subject.

Human resource factors are often outside the control of the Registrar.  Do some staff work under a collective bargaining agreement?  Are staff “exempt or nonexempt,” as defined by the Fair Standards Labor Act?  Does the school’s HR program control issues of promotion, hiring, and termination?  Such factors of course impact staff planning, but do not diminish the influence of the Registrar regarding functional organization.

The Registrar often reports to a senior administrator with student services or academic affairs responsibility.  It is common for the Registrar to hold a dual title such as Associate/Assistant Vice President/Provost.  The “registrar” title represents responsibility for functional process such as student registration, transcript ordering, and graduation.  The dual title represents staff responsibility within planning processes such as enrollment management, student success, and information technology.

 Core functional responsibilities of the Registrar’s Office most often include:

  • Student Registration - The process and procedures that enable students to enroll in specific courses.  Common components include confirmation of registration; priority registration for identified students; enforcement of pre-requisite requirements; wait-list processing; registration adjustment period (i.e. “drop/add”); and late drop period.
  • Course Offering - A tightly coupled process involving academic departments and faculty identifying the courses to be taught during a semester.  Common components include section level detail; on-line publication; and highly interactive with the student registration process.
  • Academic Record - A broad array of functions such as calculating grade point averages; academic honors, probation, or dismissal; degree audit; holds; transfer credit; change of major; student biographic changes; grade changes and grade reporting.
  • Graduation - Identifying students expected to graduate after the current semester; validating the student has satisfied all degree requirements; preparing and distribution diplomas; and replacing diplomas over time.
  • Transcripts and Verifications - Ordering, fulfillment, and delivery of transcripts (unofficial and official) and verification (enrollment and degree) documents.

Other common functional responsibilities may include:

  • FERPA Officer
  • ID Cards
  • IPEDS reporting
  • NCAA eligibility checking
  • Non-degree enrollment
  • Residency determination
  • Student and Exchange Visitors
  • Summer school admission
  • Subpoena responses
  • Veteran Certification 

Student Workers
As either an on-going component of the Registrar’s Office staff, or as a temporary supplement during peak processing cycles, consideration may be given to hiring part-time student workers.  This can be an economical alternative through Student Work Study financial aid programs and can also provide valuable work experience to students.  There are many opportunities to involve students while avoiding potential problems such as exposure of personally identifiable information of other students or fraudulent grade changes by the student worker.  Decisions to employ student workers must me made thoughtfully and intentionally.  Due diligence actions such as auditing the student worker’s academic record and restrictions to physical access and information system access should be considered.

One measurable component of a highly functional work team is the ability to maintain normal operations when a key staff member(s) is unavailable due to vacation, illness, or resignation.  It is imperative to examine the timing of processes, the availability of staff, and a practical ability to cross-train staff members.  Within the typical semester cycle, functions such as registration and graduation ebb-and-flow.  Can these differing cycles provide an opportunity for cross-training?  Is there a logical relationship between the primary and secondary duties and responsibilities?  What level of continuous training is required to keep current with process changes?  Is the staff backfill required for a few hours, a few days, or longer?  These are important issues that must be asked and answered to provide a highly capable and flexible team.

Keeping the main thing the main thing.
Sometimes, in the process of organizing and staffing the Registrar’s Office, it is possible to fall into the trap of losing the big-picture focus.  The risk is that the performance of the functional unit takes on more importance than the overall effectiveness of the Registrar’s Office.  A simple illustration: “Are telephone calls answered quickly and is the caller provided with an answer to their question, or forwarded on to another person or department?”  It’s not rocket science - a well-organized office will answer all calls quickly and provide a direct answer to the caller’s question.

There are selected opportunities to outsource specific functional tasks such as transcript, diploma, and catalog processing to service providers.  Outsource providers are experts in their field and have developed business processes that yield maximum results, improve student satisfaction, and reduce operational costs.  The additional benefit is that staff no longer performing these outsourced functions can focus on other Registrar Office core processes.  It is best to think of outsource providers as an extension of the Registrar’s staff, and not a replacement of Registrar’s staff. 

Training and Advancement
Many of the functions performed within the Registrar’s Office are not supported by formal educational programs.  However, there are extensive sources of professional training and experience, such as AACRAO, regional-AACRAO organizations, and conference affiliations.  There should be no surprise that normal attrition and turnover will result in hiring to fill vacant positions.  The question for the Registrar is, will the necessary training occur within the office, positioning current staff for advancement, or will the next generation of staff be trained by someone at a different school? 

Registrar Offices are service organizations that provide a wide array of specific functions to students, alumni, faculty, parents, other departments, and many other constituents.  This six-part series has presented a broad array of management and organizational opportunities that all focus on the delivery of outstanding student service.
Part 1: The User Experience
Part 2: Continuous Quality Improvement
Part 3: One-Stop Student Service
Part 4: The Sphere of Influence
Part 5: Constituent Relationship Management

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