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Finding a New Registrar: New Hire or Promote?

Uh oh.  Your registrar has just given you notice that her last day will be in two months.  (Retirement looks just too good to stay any longer.)  What happens next?  Two months is not a lot of time to conduct a thorough national search, even for a search firm.  But the associate registrar has been in the office for several years and is known as a very competent and professional manager.  Could he be promoted to registrar?  Does that preclude a search? How long would it take to do a full search?  Can we do it ourselves or should we hire a search firm?  Do we need an interim registrar in the meantime? If so, how do we get an interim?  Do we name the associate as interim?  If we do that and not name him registrar (or if we don’t promote him now), do we lose him too?

That’s a lot of questions to be answered, and quickly.  You can promote the associate, and an appropriate search can be conducted quickly without advertising externally.  But is he the right leader as well as a good manager?  Both traits are important and significant.  There are a number of traits that are particularly important as well, most of which can be determined in an interview with the candidate or in investigating the possible promotion of the associate.

A registrar needs a certain set of skills necessary to operate an efficient, professional, and ethical office.  Technical skills, management skills, and organizational skills are the keys to success for a registrar.  There are, however, important philosophical aspects to the position of registrar that can give the office the respect and trust it must have to be successful or the lack of which can be disastrous to the operation of the office.  These important aspects of the job are the ways in which the registrar approaches his or her job, on how the office should be managed, and the relationships between the registrar and the many campus communities that interact with the office on a daily basis.

Questions to ask Yourself

As an interviewer of a registrar candidate, the associate or an applicant from a search, there are questions you can ask to get at those important qualities in a potential registrar.  You could also observe, or see if others have observed, these traits in an associate being considered for advancement.

  1. How does the applicant balance the need to follow regulations with the occasional need to allow for exceptions?

A registrar needs to be flexible when appropriate. Not all requests get an automatic “yes” or “no” response.  There are shades of gray in many requests; it’s  not all black and white.

  1. What would be his or her reaction to your decision to make an exception to policy with which they do not agree?

There will come a time when a decision by the registrar will be appealed to the next level up (or two.)  It may even come to you. That appeal will be approved, reversing the decision of the registrar. The reaction of the registrar to that decision is significant.  It must be accepted, but the reasons of the original decision must be made clear to the you or whomever makes that decision.  The approval of the appeal must be made in writing and placed in the file of the student and maintained by the registrar for future reference.

  1. How does the applicant view the faculty? What is the relationship with the faculty as a whole?

The response to this question is obvious.  The registrar must see the faculty as another recipient of the services provided by the office; but more than that, there must be a level of cooperation, trust, and respect going both ways. The more friends he or she has on the faculty the better, especially department and committee chairpersons.

  1. What is a student to the applicant? What is their relationship with students?

A student is more than a customer as many institutions see them.  The registrar plays a role with students unlike any other person on campus. The registrar is part adviser on the academic program, part parent setting limitations on what can be done, and part counselor when things don’t go right (like not graduating on time.)  Therefore, the relationship with students has to be more than the “no person”; it has to be that of the “know person.”

  1. Is their office door open or closed?

Accessibility is a significant aspect of the job of a registrar, whether it’s being available to faculty, staff, or students.  An office door must be closed during confidential discussions or work of course, but an open door says “I’m available to talk to you about whatever problem or concern you have. Come in.”

  1. What would they rather have other people in the office do so they won’t have to? Why?

The registrar needs to be put in a position to be successful by avoiding things that get in the way. It can be very advantageous, therefore, to have staff persons who can do those things that the registrar prefers not to do or who are more skilled in certain areas (like technology or social media) so that the registrar does not have to do them.  This situation results in a much more efficient and well-run office.  The opposite situation can work also.  There may be (or should be) things that the registrar does so that others in the office don’t have to do, even if it is “below” his or her paygrade.

  1. What do they need to be successful in the position?

This question shows what’s important to the future registrar. You should already know some of the answers: support from above, a good staff (including replacing current staff if necessary), current technology, and sufficient work space for all.  But also listen for a few things mentioned above: trust and cooperation from faculty and staff and time to get adjusted to new policies and procedures. Those “P & P’s” could be very different from what the new registrar was used to at the previous institution.

  1. What professional development activities are they involved in or want to be involved in?

Professional development activities are a mandatory part of the job.  A registrar must stay current with federal regulations like FERPA, must understand updates to whatever Student Information System (SIS) is in use, and keep in touch with colleagues upon whom he or she can rely for ideas and answers to questions that arise in the normal course of the job.  Membership in professional associations like AACRAO and the state or regional association should be encouraged.  Education opportunities from these organizations are also significant for those registrars who may be less experienced. (All registrars are new to the profession at some point!)

Asking the right questions of any potential hire is important, and these questions are general enough to be used in many interviewing situations.  But there are certain aspects of the job of the Registrar that are unique to that position.  Finding the right person to fill that very important position will have a significant impact on your institution.

Management and Leadership Qualities

Of course, you will need to evaluate the management and leadership qualities and potential of the associate registrar and of any applicants you get should you decide to do a search. And don’t forget that hiring an interim registrar is also an option.  The professionals at focusEDU can do both: conduct a thorough national search for your new registrar and supply an interim while a search is undertaken.  The team at focusEDU has several nationally-known former registrars, an advantage over other search firms that do not have the contacts in the field or the hands-on knowledge of what it takes to be a successful registrar and thus conduct a quality search. Let focusEDU turn your “uh-oh” moment into an “ah-ha!” moment.

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About the Author:

mentoring and coaching for higher education leadership
Glenn Munson is a nationally respected and recognized leader in registrar practices and operations. Glenn spent 28 years as the Registrar at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, and after a brief attempt at retirement, was the Associate Registrar at the University of Memphis for three years, giving him a unique combination of experience at both a small private college and a large state university. He also served in the Admissions Office at Rhodes (when it was Southwestern at Memphis) and held other admissions and records positions at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania and as the first Director of Admissions and Records at Methodist Hospital School of Nursing in Memphis. As the Registrar at Rhodes, he saw Rhodes through changes in the institution’s name and academic calendar, several modifications to the curriculum and ultimately an introduction of a new curriculum, and the implementations of Banner and DegreeWorks and the establishment of a one-stop shop..

He served as a regular or ex-officio member of faculty and administrative committees including Administrative Policy, Academic Standards and Standing (dealing with student requests for variances from academic policies), Space Utilization, Academic Calendar, Curriculum, and the Enrollment Management Committee. He also was the only administrator on the Curriculum Revision Committee which successfully designed and set the implementation of a new liberal arts curriculum in 2007.

One of Glenn’s major responsibilities at the University of Memphis was the introduction of DegreeWorks and its regular updating (scribing). He was the representative of Student Enrollment Services on the Program Management Committee which managed the University’s Process Improvement Program and also served on the Equity in Athletics Committee reviewing the University’s compliance with Title IX.

Glenn served the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (AACRAO) as a member of their Board of Directors as Vice President for Records and Academic Services; as a member of the Annual Program Committee; as a member and as Chair of the Nominations and Elections Committee; as a member of other numerous task forces and committees including AACRAO Task Force 2000, and as a frequent presenter at annual meetings and workshops. Glenn was presented the AACRAO APEX Award in 2005 that recognizes professional excellence based on the person’s commitment to student success and demonstrated by involvement on their campus and presentations and activities at the state, regional, or national level.

Glenn has provided consulting services for a number of colleges across the country. Glenn is a recognized leader in office organization, administration and communication initiatives; the registrar’s role in curriculum development and management; registration systems; student information services (Banner in particular) and degree audit (DegreeWorks in particular),

Glenn is a strong advocate of professional development. He was instrumental in restructuring AACRAO’s Registrar 101 workshop during his time on the Board of Directors, and he continues to participate as a faculty member for REG 101, both live and online. He also co-developed and helped to introduce Registrar 201.

Glenn received his Bachelor’s degree from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, and his M.S. degree from Kent State University. He and his wife Christine have been married for 40 years and have three grown children living in Tennessee.

As a Senior Consulting Director of focusEDU, Glenn looks forward to assisting the leadership of the higher education community with optimized solutions for best practices in all areas of registrar and student information system services.

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