What Does a Registrar Do?

On the weekend, I was at a social engagement where most of the people there had little to no experience with a university and the inevitable question arose, “What do you do for a living?” And then the follow-up question (Registrars get this all the time), “What does a registrar do, exactly?”

Right. What is my job again?

Is it analyzing data, looking for trends? Is it managing a huge budget and supervising a large staff? Is it crafting complex reports for government and immigration officials? Is it chairing committees and representing the university to outside organizations?

Well, sort of. But those are just derivatives of the REAL job.

The Registrar’s real job is to manage enrolment. Philosophically, this means clearing pathways so students can get a good education. At its most basic level, it means creating a record (a file) for every student, a record of every course, program, instructor, etc. It means creating a course schedule and then connecting all those records appropriately. It means knowing which courses are required for each program, and allowing students to enroll in programs and courses. It means keeping a record of all that and providing documentation of progress towards completing courses and programs (e.g., producing grade reports, transcripts, and degrees/diplomas, etc.). In my own case, at Trinity Western University, it means less work in recruiting and admissions, but more work in billing and receiving payments for tuition.

If your other work (analyzing data, managing your budget, creating reports, etc.) is distracting you from your real job, you’ve lost your focus. As Stephen Covey so famously said, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” Registrars: manage your enrolment!


2 thoughts on “What Does a Registrar Do?

  1. Hmm. I don’t disagree with what you identify as the “main thing” that Registrar’s do, Grant. However, I wonder if that is really “managing” enrollment — at least in the sense that term is used today. It is certainly recording and facilitating student educational activities, along with reporting (to the student and to the institution). But is it managing?

    Managing, to me, implies control of activities to a certain end. Most registrars I know actually have very little “control” — we often don’t design programs, courses, or teaching spaces. We don’t assign teaching staff, and we get very little access to feedback mechanisms to measure what improves the educational outcomes.

    At best we might have influence. Even on something so clearly in the center of registrarial data and expertise as scheduling, it seems that many other sectors of the institution (academic departments, faculties, facilities departments) have more control, and registrars try to shape those forces into a good schedule from a student perspective. (Initially I was going to use a metaphor here of an old west teamster driving a set of oxen, but sometimes it feels more like bull fighting.)

    So what is it called when we work by influence and persuasion rather than control? Is that enrollment leadership? Enrollment lobbying? Enrollment subversion?


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