Realigning A Registrar’s Office

January 10, 2022
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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

By Cynthia Suter, Registrar at Norwich University

In January 2020, I authored a Connect article about professional challenges during times of enrollment decline, but ultimately I decided to begin a new chapter at another institution. Two years later, an update about office assessment to move an office forward.

A part of the maturation process is learning the grass is never greener on the other side; I learned that at a fairly young age and have always been level-headed about change. I took my current position fully aware there would be challenges and embraced that fact. The point of this article is not to put down my office or institution, but to demonstrate an order that helped me move the office forward.

Challenge 1.
Everyone is so busy. I went from a staff of two - sometimes three - at my past institution into a staff of seven for traditional programs and three for online programs. Yes, the student enrollment was higher but the staff balance and workload complaints were not in alignment.

Solution 1.
Listen, and ask several questions about the process. I had to spend a lot of time to understand how three staff complete the same work with fewer reports of overload, while also understanding the needs of the student populations were different. I created private work folders for staff to document weekly tasks and created a tasks/process document articulating frequency to determine if workloads could be redistributed to better match frequencies.

Challenge 2.
One position was solely dedicated to the National Student Clearinghouse. Why? And, how could I leverage that position to pick up where others felt overwhelmed?

Solution 2.
The position was a response to some inadequate reporting. The staff member had an interest in institutional research/effectiveness. Decided to share the position with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, who needed help, to reward a staff member for great work and to assist in advancing their career.

Challenge 3.
Hearing, I’ve always done it this way but I don’t know why. I never experienced my own staff speaking these words; I’d hear it in other areas. Now it was my problem!

Solution 3.
At staff and individual meetings, I asked people to understand why they do what they do and to learn, or ask, how their work impacted the organization. Additionally, I challenged each to find ways to work more efficiently. Reminded often that our processes would not look like the past. Change was going to be inevitable!

Challenge 4.
Three traditional program staff left within a month of each other.

Solution 4.
This was awful being new, but great news! I began to have a clear understanding of the personnel challenges which meant a realignment would be easier. What we thought would be an extra workload helped me see that everyone was not as busy as described. I picked up much of the workload to get first-hand experience regarding time to complete tasks.

Essentially, each challenge was the same process: question, document work, work alongside the staff, and assess to determine a solution. I prepared many organization charts and for some reason asked to create a new Unit taking on staff lines from two other offices. Crazy, yes, but for the organization, this meant better cohesion. Eventually, from the initial vision, I was able to eliminate two positions but use some of those savings to put into wages.

I’ve never experienced such a flux in staff or disarray, and we continue to review, but what worked for me was documentation. I think writing my challenges were therapeutic in some way as well. Thankfully, my supervisor was supportive of the vision and whether good, bad, or indifferent I repeatedly talked about the changes with the staff so there would be no surprises.