Is it armageddon?

Given the rapidly-changing landscape of higher education over the last decade, many registrars are looking to the future to try to anticipate and understand our profession direction in order to gracefully and efficiently influence and adapt to those changes when they occur.

“For the first time in a very long time, other than seeing how going online has changed higher education, we’re really seeing the ecosystem shift completely,” said University of Maryland University College Registrar Joellen Shendy. “No longer is it just higher education acting on itself, but all of these other systems are now exerting influence on higher education, and the institution has become somewhat fragile--just like a company with too much or too little debt is vulnerable to takeover. We have to answer questions we’ve never have to answer before.”

Seismic shifts

Digital credentials, comprehensive transcripts, blockchains, data aggregation sites, data mining, cloud computing, and more. How will these emerging technologies and trends affect the future of the student records profession? What will be the role of campus registrars?

“There are all sorts of potential realities,” said Shendy. For example:

Who controls the record? “Right now I’m the COO of the information system, but if we’re operating in a cloud-based consortium of institutions, am I just the local agent?” asks Mark McConahay, Associate Vice Provost and Registrar and Indiana University. “And then what happens to individual institution’s policies in the context of a group consortial policy?”

Taking that a step further, McConahay speculated about “ultimate aggregation,” where the evaluated record is put into a public system, such as National Student Clearinghouse, and the information is ultimately disclosed by the student themselves without Registrars as the intermediaries. These are questions that come up around projects such as digital diplomas, comprehensive records, and digital backpacks. 

“We may cease to become the primary discloser of information,” McConahay said. “We aggregate, collect, and validate, but the student can become their own distributor.”

What belongs in the record? “The model is no longer ‘go to college, get a job.’ There’s a fundamental shift in the way people are learning and what needs to be learned,” Shendy said.

The lifelong learning model changes the way learning needs to be maintained and shared. Now education is being delivered from a variety of different sources, exerting pressure on records-keepers to find ways to verify and document learning happening outside of the traditional college classroom.

“As we’re trying to connect students to employers, we’re looking at the transfer credit models of the future,” said Insiya Bream, UMUC Assistant Vice Provost of Registrar Strategic Operations. “How are we bringing in credit? It’s changing from the traditional institution-to-institution transfer to find different models of transfer credit.”

That creates questions about the gatekeeping function of the registrar. What constitutes the student record? What artifacts count? What are the rules about record maintenance and disclosure? It could also affect department revenue, for example, if transcripts and graduation applications no longer require a fee. And it also can impact office training, competencies and staffing.

What skills do record-keepers need? Although the registrar’s office has long been working with data and data protection, the demand for large-scale data analysis and interpretation is new.

“Primarily our job has been safeguarding the record,” Shendy said. “We’ve not really had to use the data or find new models; it was more of a protectorate, fiduciary, steward role. Like a sheriff. But now we’re expected to be involved in all these other areas and that can be very confusing for people, especially those who have been in the profession for a long time.”

“These jobs used to be transactional, clerical processes--evaluate credentials, sending transcripts, and so on,” she added. “The registrar’s office tends not to turn over staff heavily so we might have people who have been processing transcripts and grades for decades. It’s not necessarily a hotbed of people who can write SQL at the drop of a hat. But these changes will require new skills that are more data-oriented and require critical thinking. ”

Scanning the horizon

To help higher education professionals imagine the future--including the above-referenced questions and much more, Shendy, McConahay and Bream are holding an interactive “town hall” discussion called "Is it Armageddon? With New Technologies, What Will We Do in 10 Years?" at the 2018 AACRAO Annual Meeting. The session will:

  • Identify trends and emerging technologies,

  • Discuss the ramifications these issues may have on the profession, and  

  • Note practical steps to take to be ready for the future.

Don’t miss this critical, inspiring, and engaging conversation! Register now for the AACRAO Annual Meeting, March 25-28, 2018 in sunny Orlando!