Field Notes: The registrar's emerging role in data governance

February 24, 2020
  • Data Stewardship
  • Records and Academic Services
  • field notes
digital thumbprint, data security concept

"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 connect@aacrao.org.

by Aimee Vitangcol Regoso, Registrar, Andrews University

Data is an integral part of any organization, both in processing and sharing information. Higher education is no different and with a complex organizational structure, who should be involved in data governance? What is the role of the registrar in data stewardship? Has there been a shift over time in the registrar’s role to warrant a more expanded role in data governance?

Registrars as data stewards

Typically, if one were to describe the role of a registrar, the description would include the custodian of records for a student’s academic experience from enrollment to graduation. In the changing world of technology, all components of academic records are comprised of data. So within their own right, the registrar can be viewed as a data steward. 

Data stewards have several attributes: generally responsible for a department; most closely aligned with the system used to collect, store, and disseminate the data; responsible for FERPA; the content experts in a given area. All of these attributes apply to a registrar in the realm of student data. As a result of these attributes, registrars actively participate in data governance by:

  • Incorporating best practices to define terms and safeguard data quality

  • Protecting data and determining appropriate access 

  • Reporting data issues and working through resolution

  • Serving as members of relevant committees.

Beyond data stewardship

While data stewardship is an important role of the registrar, are there other aspects of data governance that a registrar can be involved with?

In 2015, Educause created a white paper by pooling expertise to guide in “Establishing Data Stewardship Models”, defining multiple data roles in an institution beyond data stewards:

1. Data custodians include both process owners and process users. These roles have the highest stake in the accuracy of the data, which provides a strong foundation for the rest of the university as the data they produce supports decision making at multiple levels. More specifically, process owners are tasked with managing and running the process involving data collection, data entry, data monitoring, and data audits/review. Process users act on data to either create, update, or delete it.

2. Data trustees are individuals at the institution responsible for a unit generally at an administrative level.

3. Data suppliers' and consumers' roles are more obvious. A data supplier is any source of data which takes action on or otherwise creates data. A data consumer is someone who is informed by the results of data management.

Given these various roles, is the registrar confined to the roles associated with data stewards only?

Registrars as key intersection

Pittinsky refers to the potentially transformative role a registrar can play in higher education in “The Evolving Role of the University Registrar” published in 2019 in Inside Higher Ed

According to the article, “Registrars are located at several intersections: 1) academic life and administrative life, 2) protecting student data and making student data actionable and 3) supporting student-led pathways and scaffolding them. Those intersections, among others, are fundamentally transforming the profile of the registrar.”

Throughout the history of the position, the role of the registrar is located at a number of intersections. The registrar is a link between admissions and alumni by virtue of the responsibility of the student record. In addition, they are a link between operational units such as administration, faculty, financial aid, finance and IT among others involved in defining the student experience.

Role of Registrars in data governance

Being in the midst of conversations which are pivotal to an institution, the registrar has the opportunity to contribute to the overall well-being of the institution not just in their own realm but across the institution in whatever data governance structure exists, formal or informal.

A best practice is to have all data roles participating in data integrity at all levels. Beyond their own department, the registrar can engage all levels in the importance of data by aiding data suppliers and consumers in the following ways:

  • Understanding associated definitions

  • Communicating and assisting in problem-solving any red flags

  • Verifying accuracy and timeliness of customer-provided data 

  • Working with third-party entities to standardize data and ensure importability where possible

With staff fulfilling roles as data custodians, the registrar plays an important role in training data custodians under them in their data integrity responsibilities. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Ensuring day-to-day processes under their purview support the data goals of the institution

  • Understanding the role in creating good data that conforms to expectations

Depending on the structure of the organization, a registrar is likely to report to or be a data trustee. As a data trustee, the opportunity to lead the institution is expanded:

  • Actively bridging the cross-departmental gap through collaborative efforts

  • Routing data-related issues to the appropriate entities

  • Seeking input as policy is crafted to ensure that data structure and management support policy

  • Ensuring the right people have access to the right data in conjunction with IT

  • Providing an overarching view into the institution’s data and priorities

From management and involvement in the student record and experience to policy making and implementation, registrars are a vital connection between academia, operations and administration. If as a registrar you do any of the following tasks, you are already contributing in valuable ways to data governance: manage data and data quality across relevant systems; vet data flowing between departments; handle standardized reporting, internal or external. The centrality of a registrar’s role lends itself for registrars to make a tremendous contribution to the success of data governance of an institution.