Institutional Strategy and the Registrar

The Summer 2009 edition of College and University, a journal of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers has an interesting article entitled, “Middle Management and Institutional Strategy”. The author, Sam J. Fugazzotto, does a very nice job of summarizing some of the differences between well-known middle-management positions such as those in a manufacturing plant, and middle-management positions in colleges and universities such as the Registrar. His main point is that organizations which succeed do so because they marry operational effectiveness (sometimes known as OE) with a unique strategy, and the Registrar is best situated to assist in managing both.

Typical manufacturing plants have a middle management with a ton of control. This is because senior management tends to focus on strategy, and directs middle management to achieve the strategy by directing, standardizing and measuring the operators’ work.

When I was doing my M.A., I was informed by one of my professors that “middle management is dead.” It appears they have been resurrected.

Enter a Monty Python moment: “And now for something completely different.” Middle management in higher education bears little resemblance to the manufacturing sector. First of all, we deal with faculty members who, along with their multitudinous degrees, seem to have their own ideas and are hard to influence (read “almost impossible to argue with and win”). Fugazzotto puts it strongly when he says deans, provosts and presidents “cannot unilaterally hand down strategy to as powerful a group of operators as college faculty.” No kidding.

But even faculty want strategy as recent non-confidence votes against college presidents by faculty unions  can attest. And the magnitude of change in our world is a call for strategy to institutions that wish to survive this decade. The trick comes in how to measure success of strategy, especially in academe which doesn’t have a strong history of measuring such things. I have personally heard multi-millionaire potential donors say that they will not support all the wonderful things we do in higher education if we can’t run an effective organization.

As you might have guessed, enter the Registrar. In my institution, the Registrar’s Office tracks almost all the information needed to determine success of strategy. In economic terms, we process about $20 million per semester in tuition and room and board fees. In people terms, we track admitted students, course and program enrollment, student success (grades), progress towards degrees, and graduation numbers. We know how many students drop out.  We know where transcripts are being sent to, so we have a pretty good idea of where our students are getting jobs and further education – or we know where they’re applying, at least. We can even tell you how many parking passes we sold this fall, and whether there were enough parking spaces to hold all the cars (btw, when did students start driving vehicles that are much nicer than faculty vehicles???)

Even further than this, Fugazzotto says, “registrars can combine technical and institutional knowledge in order to use technology strategically rather than making data systems an end in themselves.” We are “business process managers who deliver information and resources that support the academic missions of our campuses.”

What he’s saying is we are in a position to quantify most things in the academy. Therefore, we have great strategic value.

I feel much better now that someone has justified my existence!

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