By Katie Brown, AVP for Student Success & University Registrar at Aspen University
"Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at email@example.com.
In November 2022, my institution’s Director of Academic Advising left their position. After some discussion around replacements, budgets, and change management needs, it was determined that the academic advising department and the registrar’s office would combine under the leadership of a newly created position. Thus, I moved from being a university registrar to becoming the university’s first Assistant Vice President for Student Success & University Registrar. For the last few months, I have been adapting to this new role and working to create one cohesive office out of what has historically been two departments with two different leaders. This Field Notes column will reflect on that journey thus far.
As registrars, we’re always adapting and implementing process improvements. I am a huge proponent of continuous improvement; it’s something I’ve presented on and written about for AACRAO Connect. I was eager to jump in and use those skills while exploring new challenges. However, I’m also a big believer in not coming on too strong in a new role. The academic advising staff was already experiencing change and uncertainty by taking on a new manager. The last thing I wanted to do was rattle the team further by making sweeping changes. Instead, I opted for a soft opening, keeping all processes running exactly as they had been while I listened and learned. I held one-on-ones with each of my new advising team members and spent time getting to know them, asking them what they already liked about their job, and gauging what they would like to see changed. I had to take a step back and learn how things worked now before I could make viable suggestions for moving forward. As a team, we’re now working through process updates for some of the common problems the group brought forth. Some issues were able to be fixed quickly; others are taking much more time. But the important thing is that the team is seeing progress and are engaged in the change process.
One of my main focuses has been using my new role as a connective piece for holistic process improvement between the registrar’s office and academic advising. Rather than keeping these areas siloed, we can now more easily bring both groups together to make sure that our processes are working for staff and students. Advisors have been able to provide amazing feedback about how our end-users, the students, see processes and interpret information. This has already led to changes around how the registrar’s office and advisors are communicating with students and with each other. We’ve been able to improve transparency between the two teams. Joint training sessions have also led to a more well-rounded understanding of the student lifecycle and academic operations for all involved.
As we progress throughout this year, I hope to continue to find ways for our advisors and registrar’s office staff to collaborate and function as a cohesive team, furthering student retention and success. Through our combined efforts, we hope to make strategic improvements to our new student orientation process, progression checkpoint data tracking, and student communications. The combination of these departments has opened up new possibilities and brought more diverse skill sets to the table. I’ve learned that while both departments are working toward student success, we take very different approaches; it has been interesting working to straddle that line between empathy and policy, but over time, we’re working to find a balance that will benefit both teams. I am excited to continue along this journey and report back to the AACRAO community on our progress.