Field Notes: 4 tips for prioritizing with limited resources

October 7, 2019
  • Collaborative Decision-Making
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  • Registrar Self-Assessment
  • field notes
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"Field Notes" is a regular AACRAO 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 connect@aacrao.org.

by Margo Landy, University Registrar, San Francisco State University 

Many institutions and administrative offices in higher education are resource-thin, especially with the current budgetary environment and enrollment challenges. 

But budget cuts can diminish your and your team’s ability to be effective in your role and mission. In this environment, communication with the community and institutional leadership can be key.

Here are tips for navigating successfully:

1. Seek institutional alignment.  Alignment with institutional priorities is key.  You don’t want to swim upstream or waste time crafting a case for resources that doesn’t resonate with leadership’s key concerns. 

Make sure to listen, read the strategic plan, and keep your ears perked for areas emphasized in general forums or meetings.  Then explicitly connect your goals to the larger picture. 

If student success is key, explain how more staffing will lead to quicker turnaround time for office processing, allowing advisors to be more effective in their role.  If enrollment numbers are the priority, perhaps your focus can be on quick articulation, or proactive articulation agreements.

2. Develop an action plan. Consider projecting, say, 3-5 years of goals and projects.  Ideally, this could be the final product of an office program review (AACRAO’s self-assessment can be a key tool in this process), which would give you great insight into the needs and desires of the community. 

Are faculty, staff, and leadership generally satisfied with the services you and your office provide? If not, the action plan should mark steps that you will take to make improvements. Are there projects sorely needed by constituents (e.g. reports, new system implementations) that would lead to efficiencies or better support their work?  If so, include these in the plan as well.

All parts of the plan should explicitly state whether each can be accomplished with existing resources or resource diversion, or whether additional resources (staffing, budget, technology support) are being requested. It is critical to be realistic in this stage – don’t ask for less than you need and end up unable to deliver what you have promised.

3. Evaluate budget cuts or additional expectations.  If you are facing budget cuts, or being asked to take on a major project or assume a new scope of work, first evaluate whether the ask is realistic.  If not, speak up – leverage your action plan. Show which priorities are at risk – and consider negotiating items off the action plan or additional resources to supplement. 

Additional resources could be in the form of one-time funds rather than permanent staff funding, for example, to allow efficient process improvement. All framing should be in the context of institutional priorities (#1 above). Don’t waste time or credibility asking for things that aren’t valued by leadership. Consider framing the impact on services, or even creating a specific action plan for budget cuts – will wait times go up? Implementations be postponed?

4. Share results and data.  Make sure to share your results with the community, leveraging data or hard numbers when possible.  If resources were granted, show that they were well-allocated. 

Make sure the community sees the team’s accomplishments.  Gather data, such as: How many degrees were awarded, and in what timeframe?  Have your response rates gone up? Do you have data on satisfaction with services?  Even anecdotal compliments can have an impact when supported by the data.  

Navigating resources and aligning with institutional priorities can take time and attention, but generally the results pay off in terms of the services you are able to provide your constituents and what you are able to accomplish for the institution.