Best Practices for Structuring the Registrar’s Office

In our recent webinar, “Best Practices for Structuring the Registrar’s Office”, Doug McKenna, University Registrar at George Mason University, and Matt Stinson, the Director of Higher Education at Parchment, dove into the different ways you can think about forming your team and staying organized as a Registrar.

But first, Doug, whom Matt refers to as, “Just a gem of a human,” plays a game of Two Truths and a Lie. Doug gave us three statements and we had to guess the lie. Check out the on-demand webinar to discover which of the below statements is the lie – oh yeah, and gain some insights into organizational frameworks in the Registrar’s Office too!

Doug’s Two Truths and a Lie 

  • Doug auditioned for a role in the movie, “Rudy.”
  • Doug met Mother Teresa at her house in Calcutta.
  • Doug loves olives.

Each Registrar’s Office is Unique

To understand, conceptualize and envision the best structure of the registrar’s office, it’s important to remember that no single institution is like the next. 

 “We in higher ed operate in so many different ways, in so many different institutions that it would be folly to prescribe what each individual office might look like,” said Doug.

What’s my role as a leader? How do I make my organization better? How do I make the people within my organization better? These questions can help you determine the current structure of your office and influence ways to improve.  

“This may be a dissatisfying answer for many because it really depends,” said Doug. “For me, I think that the way we structure our offices is important in order to provide the service we need to the campus community. At Mason, we have 39,000 students and 34 full-time employees in the registrar’s office. Some people think it’s a lot of people, others think it’s not enough. It really depends on your perspective. At Mason, there’s a strong culture of service and innovation. We have attempted to structure the office in ways that lend themselves to supporting both of those things.”

George Mason University recently created the Mason Student Services Center, intended to be the first stop and the central resource for information and solutions related to registration, enrollment, financial aid, billing, academic records, and other student support services. As part of this, the registrar’s office stopped taking walk-in traffic. Doug and his team were able to focus on responding to emails, cases, and phone calls, while the operations team had to restructure. More recently, Doug’s registrar’s office is in the process of restructuring. 

“I have a reasonably traditional sense of what a hierarchical organizational structure is meant to look like,” said Doug. “From my own experience, I expect to have coordinators report to assistant registrars, assistant registrars report to associate registrars and associate registrars report to the registrar. Again, that’s not how it’ll be everywhere. But that structure is how I envision the office.”

Doug goes on to explain how assistant registrars should be seen more as a supervisory position.

“One of the problems we had was that there was a group of people working under one of the assistant registrars and we needed a deeper bench in the assistant registrar level. We decided to split the team and divide it up to work under a new assistant registrar. This has many positive potential outcomes — it increases the number of people who get supervisory experience. It decreases the number of direct reports an individual has. It broadens the experience level within the office, and it potentially distributes the work more equitably and more fairly across the office. When you do that, you get better results because people get a more streamlined workflow, for example.”

Any time you make a change within the office, whether it’s based on structure and organization or assignments and responsibilities, it can be difficult. People can feel overwhelmed or discouraged by change — but the fear of the unknown may be stronger than the actual idea of a structural transformation. Understanding that there will be potential feelings of uncertainty or negativity at the idea of change is a critical part of being in a leadership role. 

“As a leader, when you’re making these structural decisions, it’s your job to communicate and be transparent,” said Doug. “You have time to adjust, think through things, settle with the idea of what the new setup will be. When you announce those changes, if you expect everyone to be cool about it, you’re wrong. You’ve had the time to settle, but the people who are being affected by it are just hearing it for the first time. It might take them longer to get comfortable with the idea. This is just the beginning of the process of communication, support, training, and reinforcing why this is being done.”

Points of Reference for Registrars to Consider

For greater insight into what registrar office restructuring may entail, Doug referenced four pieces of work: “Reframing Organizations” by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, “Organizational Frameworks”, an episode of For the Record podcast with guest Casey Bullock, “Understanding and Facilitating Organizational Change in the 21st Century” by Adrianna J. Kezar and lastly, AACRAO’s Registrar’s Self-Assessment.  

“Bolman and Deal is one that you want to be familiar with so when you have conversations with your HR people or supervisor, you can better understand the perspective and reframing structures,” said Doug.

In Doug’s episode of For the Record, Casey Bullock, Ph.D., Executive Director and University Registrar at Weber State discusses the four main organizational frames: Structural, Human Resources, Political and Symbolic, and dives into how better understanding theories around frameworks can encourage stronger registrars and overall leaders. 

Kezar’s book is a fascinating piece that walks through the process of enculturating change and managing those involved through the transformation. 

“Changes and implementations in new systems don’t fail because of the implementation itself — they fail because of the change management. This is a critical part that you can’t leave out if you want to make changes to your office and be conscious of institutional needs.”

The Registrar’s Self-Assessment is important because, if you’re contemplating structural change within your office, you need to do some homework. This assessment gives you the opportunity to recognize what your office is responsible for and what’s working well. 

Overall, understanding that the idea of change can be more intimidating than implementation. Understanding that your institution will have specific needs for restructuring, and properly communicating said changes to your staff members, is critical to your success. 

Watch the webinar on-demand now and check out our blog, 5 of Our Favs – For the Record, an AACRAO Podcast Roundup

Contact us today to add efficiency to your Registrar team.

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