What, exactly, does a registrar do?

June 1, 2020
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Registrars are often called the “hub” or “heart” of campus, and for good reason. The registrar’s office is a central, essential component of the institutional ecosystem, touching students at every phase of the academic journey from applicant to alumni.

But how many people outside of higher education administration — or even within it — truly understand what a registrar does?

“A registrar should see themselves as a peer of academics and a partner in the delivery of educational programs,”  according to the preface of the Registrar’s Basic Guide. “As the steward of the academic record and the keeper of institutional data, the registrar…. sits at the crossroads between student service and academic programing, [distinctly] suited to use the data at hand to help shape discussions and decisions in the context of desired educational outcomes for the institution and students alike.”

Safeguarding academic integrity

One of the registrar’s most sacrosanct roles is that of safeguarding the academic integrity of the institution. Many, if not all, of the functions of the office of the registrar help to support that important goal, along with other important tasks. 

Below is a primer, adapted from the Registrar’s Basic Guide, elucidating some of the profession’s most common areas of responsibility (Of course, the role of the registrar varies among institutions depending on the tradition and organization of the institution.)

1. Records. Registrars are the stewards of student records, charged with the secure maintenance and retention of accurate and reliable data.

2. Registration and curriculum management. Registrars oversee student registration and class scheduling, as well as class certification, evaluation and student assessment.

3. Academic calendar. Registrars help develop the academic calendar.

4. Publications. Registrars publish the academic catalog, class schedules, and more.

5. Office management. Registrars are responsible for departmental leadership, planning and budgeting, personnel, and collaborating with faculty, students, and other campus offices.

6. Grading and grade reporting. Registrars process grade submissions and provide students with information about their progress.

7. Transcript and transfer processes. Registrars authorize, send, and receive student transcripts, and supervise transfer credit assessment.

8. Graduation. Registrars oversee graduation/commencement, as well as degree audits.

9. Compliance, research, and reporting. Registrars ensure compliance with reporting requirements and educational law, such as FERPA, as well as with both internal and external institutional reporting.

10. Technology leadership. Registrars serve as integral parts of institutional IT functions and arbiters of student information system integrity. 

Additionally, at many institutions, registrars are in a position to influence academic policy and maintain fairness in procedures affecting students, faculty, and staff.

Staying abreast of emerging issues

In addition to managing most or all of the above areas, registrars are expert professionals who must continually engage in professional development and stay aware of emerging issues in the field. Recent examples include discussions around topics such as:

  • Including disciplinary/non-academic information on transcripts, 

  • Recording student identity (such as preferred names and pronouns),

  • Comprehensive learner records (a.k.a. extended transcripts), and

  • Alternative credentials.

“The registrar’s office serves as a bureau of information for students, faculty and staff, parents, prospective students, and visitors on almost any question,” the preface states. “While the challenges of serving as a registrar are many, the rewards are great.”

For a deeper look at the basic functions of this important institutional office, explore the AACRAO publication Registrar’s Basic Guide, which provides a high-level overview of these functions, as well as guidance for further reading. This guide can become especially useful when paired with AACRAO’s Professional Development Guidelines for Registrars: Self-Assessment


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