During pandemic, institutions seize opportunity for change

June 2, 2020
  • Change Management
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light blue background with an illustrated virus rolling in from the left and knocking over books like dominoes

As our country is rocked by a pandemic, skyrocketing unemployment, and other rapidly escalating tensions, the forces that shape our lives seem to be shifting by the day. These forces are challenging higher education as well, pushing higher ed professionals to make extraordinary personal and professional adaptations in order to serve students and institutions.

Both Nora McLaughlin (Registrar, Reed College) and Susan Hamilton (Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, Rutgers University) have witnessed and undertaken transformations minor and extraordinary over the last few months. And they suggest that, in the midst of this upheaval, professionals are best served by connecting to their communities — and seizing the opportunity for institutional change. 

Find the opportunity

In response to COVID-19, institutional changes that have been months or even years in the making have been suddenly — and in many cases imperfectly — implemented.

“In the context of the pandemic, certain solutions suddenly make sense where there wasn’t the political will before,” McLaughlin said. “Knowing the kind of change you want to make and being prepared can turn a crisis into an opportunity to offer a solution.”

Across the country, institutions have quickly adapted in areas such as:

  • Teleworking.

  • Online faculty evaluations, online thesis submissions, etc.

  • Honoring graduates when commencement ceremonies are canceled.

  • Fillable forms and secure digital documents.

  • Electronic transcripts.

“In some cases, the reassignment of relatively small resources can make a big difference,” Hamilton said. Adequate retraining is also important, she added.

With a little help from friends

In the ongoing response to these crises, many registrars are finding collaborative spaces, such as association membership and professional networks, to be invaluable assets in navigating uncharted territory. 

For example, to cope with the mid-semester upheaval to typical education delivery, many institutions made partial or total changes to their grading practices. At some institutions, registrars were not consulted as those decisions were made; at others, registrars were asked to consider or implement changes that weren’t possible or helpful.

“This is where having AACRAO to fall back on is essential,” Hamilton said. “In times of such drastic change it’s so important to have professional guidance to give to campus and students.”

“The sharing of knowledge is essential in times like this,” McLaughlin said. “To support students we need to talk through what we’re facing and learn from each other.”

McLaughlin and Hamilton both contributed to the recently updated Academic Records and Transcript Guide (ARTG), released in March. Based on broad research into current professional practices, the guide is helpful and responsive to current events.

Along with AACRAO Research Director Wendy Kilgore, McLaughlin and Hamilton will discuss the newly updated ARTG in a June 10 webinar. Register today.

The webinar will include:

  • the latest research, recommendations, and resources for registrars, based on the guidance in the book and practices evolving in response to COVID-19.

  • perspective on academic records and transcript management in the context of their institutions. 

  • Q&A time to address questions and share experiences. 

“A real benefit to the webinar is what we all miss not having had the Annual Meeting this year,” Hamilton said. “We need opportunities to collaborate and learn from one another. Those are the real takeaways.”


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