By Kristi Wold-McCormick, Assistant Vice Provost & University Registrar, University of Colorado Boulder and AACRAO Board of Directors President-Elect.
I always look forward to professional development opportunities that allow me to connect with and learn from birds of my feather…you know, registrars, admissions officers, and enrollment management professionals. This summer, I also had the good fortune of being able to attend a conference where participants represented a broader variety of professional backgrounds, including higher education, government, industry, non-profits, and vendors.
This recent gathering focused on critical, creative, and diverse perspectives around credential innovation, learner recognition, and learning mobility. From some of the conversations and sessions that involved higher ed colleagues, however, I was struck by the number of campus initiatives on credentials and learner records that seemingly did not involve the registrar. In fact, I even heard alarming comments about intentionally avoiding working with registrars due to perceived barriers or prior experiences where registrars were not supportive of innovation or change. As you can imagine, I was aghast at the thought of registrars being excluded from such important campus initiatives.
For centuries, registrars have played an important role in producing, preserving, and protecting student records and ensuring the accuracy and integrity of credentials. In today’s rapidly changing higher ed landscape that is often under attack and in which we are working harder than ever to prove our value to learners and society, registrars must also be able and willing to adapt to, develop, and support new innovations and learning pathways.
Modern-day registrars sit at the confluence of technology, data, compliance, student success, and curriculum. As such, we play an increasingly important role in not only influencing but changing the future of higher education to better serve diverse learner and societal needs. I know many registrars who not only support but who lead innovation on their campuses – be it in the way of creative ideas that promote student success or in developing systems, policies, and other means to help achieve campus goals.
Being an influencer and champion of positive change as a registrar is not an either-or proposition. Our traditions of integrity, security, and order need not be cast aside in the face of innovation and change. Rather, it benefits our offices and our campuses when we demonstrate our flexibility, support, and creativity in developing solutions that are also compliant, secure and preserve institutional and academic integrity. In other words, we cannot afford to be perceived as resistors or barriers to change. If and when registrars say, ‘no,’ innovation does not simply cease, but rather it continues without our input, influence, or oversight.
Registrars all have the best intentions and want to do right by our institutions. So, why do perceptions among some of our key campus stakeholders still exist that we either aren’t innovative or that we pose barriers? Let’s unpack some possibilities and find ways to change this narrative to ensure we aren’t either overlooked or intentionally excluded in the future.
First, information overload is real, and it can be challenging to stay well-informed on the latest trends and best practices. In sifting through the clutter of messages and information, we often find ourselves being selective in which articles or emails to read or conference sessions to attend. Next, competing demands between the swirl of new and changing laws and policies, aggressive campus initiatives, and a host of solutions to help us meet these demands can be overwhelming and strain our available resources. These resource demands may lead to a resistance to engage in new initiatives when it is perceived they may stress current obligations. Therefore, if things aren’t perceived as broken, engaging in discussions about change may not always feel like a priority.
In the face of these challenges, registrars must remain engaged and open to new trends and new technologies because it’s likely that someone on our campuses will eventually ask or issue directives about them. It behooves us to be prepared and responsive when that time comes. I would also argue that registrars should not always wait to be asked but rather raise issues and ideas with campus leaders and stakeholders to ensure our campuses are moving in the right direction.
Registrars must secure a seat at the table where important strategic discussions take place. Often, campus decision-makers don’t realize that new initiatives, policies, or innovations significantly impact functional offices. Having a voice in these discussions and decisions will help ensure that registrars are not the last to know and that our offices are prepared to support these changes and initiatives.
How do we get a seat at the table? Well, sometimes we need to simply ask to be included. Other times, finding a champion to advocate for us may be needed. However, earning our seat is probably the most effective way to ensure our voice has long-term value and respect and that we are not an afterthought when future decisions are made. We can earn this respect, and hopefully a seat, by making ourselves available, being collaborative, being open to change, and offering ideas.
To accomplish these outcomes, we must understand agency. Agency is taking action or intervening in a situation with a particular goal and desired effect (Archambeau, 2022)
...being proactive and intentional; taking risks; overcoming imposter syndrome; creating and implementing a plan, and understanding the difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness.
The more we support and help find solutions to problems, the more others will want to include us from the beginning. If we focus on problems without solutions or reasons not to embrace innovation or change, we will be overridden and others will take on our roles. We understand the data, systems, and policies as well as anyone else on campus, so leveraging this knowledge when important decisions are being made will ultimately benefit us and our institutions.
Whether it’s through delegation of duties, a divide and conquer approach among the team, or hiring practices where specialized skills are sought, registrars must be able to contribute to campus decisions and positively affect change that is consistent with our professional values. Engagement in these initiatives will ensure good record processes are part of the discussion, minimize surprise operational demands on the unit and provide the pathways and venues on campus for appropriate resource planning. This is also where AACRAO and state/regional ACRAOs are extremely beneficial in offering opportunities and resources that make our work a little easier. They afford us professional networks to learn from and share with other members, online courses and webinars, publications, and reports that offer guidance on important issues, legislative updates, and more.
The landscape of higher education is changing rapidly. We can either embrace these changes and look at them as opportunities, or we can fight hard to maintain the status quo and watch others lap us. Not being a ‘no’ person doesn’t mean we immediately have to say ‘yes,’ to everything. We are still ultimately responsible for the integrity, accuracy, and security of our student information, and we must speak up when any of those principles may be compromised. We must do so, however, with open, solution-oriented mindsets to meet goals and ensure our voices continue to be valued.
This is not a zero-sum game, we can both foster innovation and change AND maintain the integrity, consistency, and order that represent our core values. Let’s be game changers and flip that narrative that exists for some about our profession.