There’s a critical nerve center that leads the data and operations inside every college, university and career school: the registrar’s office.
The registrar team plays a central role in powering campus-wide operations. It provides the connective tissue between students, faculty and administrators, as well as admissions, financial aid, student services and alumni relations.
The registrar’s office is also the gatekeeper of data. They process and analyze information on students, courses, degrees and alumni, making key decisions on scheduling and course offerings.
Additionally, registrars monitor at-risk students, facilitate transfer students and provide essential reports that are required for accreditation, course completion, financial aid and graduation.
With so much running through this department, the registrar team needs powerful software. A modern student information system can help a registrar run their office more efficiently, process information faster, and free up staff to spend more time with students.
This post will discuss the functional roles of registrars, including how the role has changed, and what that means for higher-ed institutions. Specifically, we’ll cover the following topics:
What is a registrar and what do they do?
The registrar’s office is the keeper of academic data, course information and student records. They organize, monitor and safeguard registration, grades, academic standing, transcripts and records.
The registrar puts the pieces of the academic puzzle together, tracking student data from enrollment to course completion to graduation. They help students register and enroll in courses, manage class enrollment, assist with prerequisites, and oversee degree and graduation requirements. As students complete semesters and modules (or not), the registrar verifies grades, course completion, degree requirements and transcripts.
Registrars and their teams are also like in-house data scientists. They analyze course enrollment, grades and completion to assess which courses are the most popular – and which are not. They also crunch data on program participation and degree completion.
As colleges and career schools add new degrees and specialties, the registrar can track the popularity of classes and programs to see what’s growing or falling short. Additionally, the registrar’s office is also responsible for reporting for Title IV federal financial aid and accreditation bodies, as well as protecting highly sensitive student data.
Where does a registrar fit into the higher-ed ecosystem?
Once a student is admitted to a school, their data moves through nearly every department and the registrar is the hub for all of those spokes. Information flows into the registrar’s office and then is transferred out to various departments, including student life, financial aid, billing and alumni relations.
The registrar maintains records that include a student’s contact information, class schedule, registration holds, grades, remaining degree requirements, and grants access or provides that information to other offices.
As stewards of important data, 86 percent of registrars cite academic records as their most important duty, followed by policy work (61%), data management (38%) and curriculum work (35%), according to a survey of registrars by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
The registrar interacts with stakeholders across campus, including students, faculty and administrators. Some of their duties are student-facing, such as course registration, record keeping and transcript services.
For example, if a student wants to take a class and doesn’t meet the prerequisites, they can make their case to a registrar to provide an exception. When a student transfers from another program or school, they might meet with the registrar to get those credits applied to their current course of study.
Similarly, registrars interact regularly with other departments and school administrators. The admissions office works closely with registrars to send data on newly admitted students. The registrar may also be involved with faculty and administrators to monitor at-risk students.
What is the role of the modern registrar?
As schools upgrade their technology stacks and embrace digitalization, the role of the registrar has evolved to be more data-oriented in three distinct areas.
When students transfer schools or change programs, registrars are responsible for evaluating and applying a student’s previous credits to their new program. Registrars use data to conduct degree audits and monitor student stress indicators like poor attendance and failure to complete school work.
Registrars also use data to update information on course registration, attendance, grades and completion to refine a school’s course, degree and program offerings.
Student Data Management
To successfully monitor data and execute these duties, registrars need reliable sources of information. If a school is using a legacy student information system that isn’t updated with real-time information, or various departments keep their records on disparate systems, it makes it challenging – and time-consuming – for a registrar to gather and report on accurate data.
Technology has helped registrars become more efficient in their roles, especially in light of a historic talent shortage. Modern registrars are taking advantage of cloud-based student information systems that automate manual tasks, offer self-service options for students and parents, and digitalize processes like attendance and grades for faculty.
When registrars don’t have to input and process information manually, they can focus on more strategic tasks.
Top Challenges Facing Today’s Registrars
As academic gatekeepers, registrars play a central role in boosting admissions and expanding program options. They manage course options, course availability, and recommend when a school should add or abandon courses. They may also put together all the pieces of the student’s schedules and enrollment.
However, the registrar’s success is predicated on having access to reliable data. Without this, registrars and their teams face significant challenges, which can impact student success and school operations.
Disorganized and Inconsistent Data
Registrars rely on data to make decisions. When they lack real-time information or data is pulled from disparate systems, it can become degraded. And if everyone operates independently, it creates information silos between departments that make it difficult to share information.
Registrars often work in small teams. Manual methods of maintaining student information and repetitive tasks that could instead be automated mean hours lost on the phone and responding to email inquiries.
Making matters worse, many schools are still using outdated, legacy student information systems that lack the ability to visualize data and create workflows. These systems make government reporting and internal analysis a time-consuming task, especially if registrars have to create new reports from scratch every time.
Lack of Integrated Systems
At some schools, different departments use their own software and apps to maintain records and data, which may not “speak” with the software that registrars use. This creates confusion and errors when it comes to course availability, enrollment and outstanding degree requirements.
For example, suppose admissions uses its own database and the information can’t be integrated with the registrar. In that case, an assistant registrar may not know how many students are enrolling for particular degree programs and majors. Those students could get shut out of classes they need for their course of study.
Time-Saving Student Information System Features for Registrars
At many schools, registrars become the “power users” of their institution’s student information system, mastering the tools for searches, data management, workflows, reports and more. When calibrated correctly, a student information system will make everyday tasks and complicated processes (like reporting) faster and easier.
While technology can’t reduce the demands on a registrar’s office, here’s how it can alleviate some of the pressure.
Today’s students are tech-savvy and can manage a majority of their own data needs. A student information system can save registrars countless hours by digitalizing manual processes like course registration, transcript and records requests, and inquiries into degree or program progress.
A Single Source of Truth
When a school is united on one student information system, all its offices and stakeholders operate from a unified database. Working from a single source of truth eliminates information silos so registrars have access to the most up-to-date information on students, courses and programs.
Advanced Search Features
When registrars need to access student information, searchable databases save time and resources. An advanced student information system allows registrars to select criteria like enrollment status, credits, GPA, gender, race, entry term and expected graduation semester.
With an integrated student information system, information can pass seamlessly between departments and within an office. For example, teams can create a workflow that sends information from admissions to enrollment and the registrar – all of which can be automated and easily updated.
A student information system like Campus Cafe Software is stocked with a library of pre-built reports. Registrars can plug in criteria and process reports without designing and populating individual reports.
These can be internal reports for stakeholders or government reports like those required for Title IV federal financial aid. Registrars can also save information for future use, and they can export the data to an Excel spreadsheet for third-party partners.
Safeguard Student Data and Privacy
Schools have students’ most sensitive personal information and registrars have access to this data. This information needs to be properly protected or the school could face penalties in addition to bad press. Older student information systems simply don’t have the safeguards or technical support to keep security up to date.
A cloud-based student information system keeps sensitive records secure and password protected. Only staff with credentialed access can view that information. Security is continually monitored by the provider and updates happen off-site automatically. Also, a secure system helps ensure that data is FERPA compliant.
Third-Party App Integration
Many schools rely on third-party software and apps, such as a learning management system, attendance software or billing services. For some apps, an integrated student information system can automatically transfer data, which helps a registrar maintain current records and improves efficiency. Previously, a registrar would have to manually enter data and send it to these platforms.
With an integrated system, registrars and their teams are relieved of tedious, manual tasks and there’s less opportunity for errors or missing information.
With a powerful student information system, registrars can quickly access student and course information and update it as needed, including by semester or module. When it comes time to perform a program or degree audit, registrars can easily access the information they need in a searchable database.
Class Registration and Batch Enrollment
One of a registrar’s most difficult tasks is getting students enrolled in courses to complete their program of study. With a capable student information system, the registrars can create a timetable to schedule classes in the right slots and pull data from the system to see which students need to be in each class.
Registrars can easily upload batches of schedules into the system at one time. This capability gives registrars the ability to get students enrolled in the right classes and meet more requests for course selection.
Along with course enrollment, registrars are responsible for tracking which classes are popular and which are falling short. To make those evaluations, they need to track course selection and program attendance. By analyzing that data, they can help administrators make important decisions about course availability and scheduling.
For example, if there is a morning and evening section of a course and the evening section is full and has a long waitlist, a registrar might recommend adding another evening section. If a long-standing course shows declining enrollment and attendance over several semesters, a registrar might recommend replacing it with a more popular option.
Identifying At-Risk Students & Boosting Retention
A registrar plays a key role in identifying at-risk students and monitoring student retention. When a registrar can easily search student data on course enrollment, attendance and grades, they can communicate with a student, faculty, or administrator before the student falls behind or leaves school. Also, if a system has alerts for poor grades or low attendance, a registrar can relay that information to counselors or faculty.
Registrars can regularly audit student data on course enrollment and completion to make suggestions to increase retention. For example, if some courses or programs have high rates of withdrawal or low grades, that can indicate a problem with the curriculum, instructor or prerequisites.
An advanced student information system lets parents and guardians access a student’s records. When parents can log in and request record requests digitally, it saves the registrar staff from returning multiple phone calls and emails.
Help Desk and Technical Support
When registrars need help using a student information system or troubleshooting, it helps to have a team of customer service experts at the ready. With a cloud-based student information system, technical advisors can access your system (with your permission) and help you troubleshoot in real time.
The Bottom Line
At Campus Cafe Software, we understand that the registrar is the school’s nerve center. We frequently ask registrars what they need and use that information to design and update our features.
At a time when a registrar’s duties are expanding, it helps to have the right technology and digital tools. With a cloud-based, integrated student information system, registrars are better equipped to manage and safeguard student data. But most important, it lets them do an essential job: Helping students enroll in the courses that they want and need to power their education.
Ready to see how a student information system can improve your registrar’s department? Contact us today for a free demo.