Three times a year, the Graduation Team in the Registrar’s Office sends several hundred emails informing students that they did not meet the requirements for graduation. The week we send the denials is inevitably filled with emails and panicked phone calls telling us “they didn't know about Requirement X” or “Advisor Y told me I was ‘all set.’” Telling a student they didn’t graduate because of missing one or more classes is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my career. I can see the betrayal my students feel at the hands of their advisors and the school, as they are often at a complete loss about what to do. I’ve had students cry, yell, punch my desk, lose a work VISA or job opportunity, beg, and even try to make deals with me and my team.
In these days of fancy color-coded web audits and 24/7 listings of every requirement I find it difficult to believe that a student has no idea that they are not academically complete. I say this because of the myriad courses that can fulfill various requirements, a far cry from the single page in my 1998 College Catalogue which was barely legible in 2003 with rampant cross-outs and erasing. Not because of the students themselves, as I try to keep in mind that many of my students may not have the ability/time/access/information to keep on top of their audits. My difficulty actually stems from what I perceive as a lack of knowledge about university-wide requirements among faculty and professional advisors. I recognize that advisors have overly large caseloads, so maybe I’m trying to find a scapegoat for what I see is a huge disservice to my students. Why aren’t students aware of missing courses?
I understand every institution is different, but I rarely see discussions on social media about interacting or partnering with the Registrar’s Office to help students succeed. I don’t remember that last time I saw #AcAdv and #EMchat on the same Tweet. Similarly, I have yet to see Registrar/registration mentioned in the ACPA or NASPA constituency groups. I’ve met very few Registrar staff members with student affairs-specific education, but each person I’ve interacted with is certainly a student affairs professional and demonstrates the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies every day. The upper-level staff in my office are active in campus conversations about majors, requirements, policies, etc., but I feel like a ghost on campus.
As a general (unfortunate) rule, I rarely hear from Advisors at all. Most of my interactions with Advisors are simple and infrequent: inquiries about why certain classes or exams do or do not appear on audits, or forwarding emails from students wondering how to take courses off campus. These are important questions to ask the Registrar’s Office, and these questions are usually filtered through the general Registrar email address or phone queue, not directed to my team. After I was asked to present about the graduation application and review process to new Advisors in a special program, and the advisors asked more questions related to the Graduation Team’s other duties than degree conferral, I realized that few people knew what my team did. There was no cross-training regarding the other departments on campus.
I was taught in my grad program, and see it recommended on many of the Higher Ed/Student Affairs entity social media accounts to learn the campus culture where we work, to reach out to our networks to find connections, to meet some of the major players on campus. It wasn’t until I gave the same presentation at one of the monthly that I realized that it wasn’t just new Advisors who didn’t know what the Graduation Team does. That got me thinking about the importance of finding the pertinent people on your campus or in your organization who will make your job easier. The people who know the answers to your questions about degree requirements, academic policy, or even where the quietest place to eat lunch is. I made a few edits to the session I gave to a select group of advisors, and asked if I could present it to our Advising Collaborative--a monthly meeting of staff and faculty who are involved with advising in many capacities. You probably know where this was going: few people knew what my team did. I could have answered questions well beyond my allotted half hour. It was just as eye-opening for me as I think it was for my colleagues.
This experience led me to wonder about the interactions between academic support staff and registration at other institutions, leading me to pose the following questions to all of you reading this blog: How often do you interact with the Registrar’s Office staff? Do you know the people to contact when an audit doesn’t look right? Have you learned the specifics related to the degree review and conferral process? Where do you turn to clarify university policies?
When I imagine my position if given free reign to design it, I see myself meeting with new academic support staff to go over the specifics of reading our audits, explaining the graduation process, and reminding the campus about who the Registrar’s office is and what we do. I see students only receive denial notices because of failed classes, not because of missing classes. I see my team working proactively with departments and advisors throughout the year rather than only when there are issues. I have become a cheerleader amongst my professional network for the importance of the Registrar’s Office in student services, and now I seek to expand that message to you. Know your allies. Everyone on a college campus is there to support students, not matter how large or small their title or salary, or whether they are even aware of their role. Including Registrar staff in discussions and meetings about student success, or having lunch with someone who manages audits to chat about the questions and confusions students have could lead to improved tools for for everyone. I would encourage all of us to find out who can help you help students, so that they may reach college completion.
Jessi Robinson is the Graduation Coordinator at University of Massachusetts Boston. She earned a BA in English from Salem State College & an MS in College Student Development & Counseling from Northeastern University. Her professional interests lie in advising, retention, and persistence. When she’s not reviewing degree audits or awarding diplomas, she is an avid Girl Scout volunteer and animal-herder of 1 wife, 2 cats, & a dog. Learn more or get in touch with Jessi at http://about.me/jrobin19 or @jrobin19.