The Registrar’s Role in Retention and Student Success

Written by: Marguerite J. Dennis
Published On: June 4, 2012

Perhaps because I began my higher education career in a registrar’s office, I have a great respect for the work of that office and its impact on retention and student success plans. A first-semester freshman’s course schedule can contribute to a smooth transition to college, or it can present logistical and time management problems for the new student.R&R Newsletter

My first assigment for the registrar’s office at one institution was to schedule freshmen into their first-semester classes. Although I am not aware of any research that suggests there is a relationship between when a class is held and academic success, and though I had little administrative experience when I began to “program” freshmen into first-semester classes, logic made me realize that a schedule made up of a class at 8 a.m. and another at 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday was not desirable, especially for a commuter student who relied on public transportation to get to school and who needed to work after school to help meet college expenses. The same is true today whether the student commutes to school or lives on campus.

The registrar, keeper of the academic timetable, attempts to meet the needs of academic departments, individual faculty members, and students by crafting a semester-by-semester schedule that allows students to register for needed classes, to drop and add classes if necessary, and to withdraw from classes if appropriate. The registrar is responsible for student readmission and for verifying that students have met all the requirements necessary for graduation.

The registrar also can and should provide valuable information to the members of the retention and student success committee on student registration patterns and withdrawals. After first-semester grades are reported, the registrar, along with the director of institutional research, can analyze grade distribution and first-year classes with excessive withdrawals and failing grades. That information, given to the retention and student success committee, can result in necessary changes to the first-year experience.Improve Retention Rates

The registrar also can work with academic deans and department chairpersons to create for each student a degree audit, listing the required number of courses and the correct sequencing of those courses necessary for graduation. In many schools, this function is the sole responsibility of the registrar. However, this task should be shared with faculty and chairpersons. Every student with a declared major should have this information by the end of the sophomore year. Knowing graduation requirements early in a student’s academic career allows students and parents to plan course-by-course schedules that will allow students to graduate in four years, not five or six.

There are many excellent “retention alert” systems that the registrar’s office staff can manage. This information can trigger automatic outreach to students in difficulty. The registrar’s office staff can alert the appropriate staff in the financial aid office to all the students who did not preregister for the following semester and who received financial assistance for the current semester. Additionally, the registrar’s office staff can alert the members of the retention and student success committee to all the students who have not preregistered for the upcoming semester so that appropriate outreach can begin.

A member of the registrar’s office should be a member of a school’s academic standing committee, the group of faculty and staff that determines if a student should be dismissed or allowed to continue with a probationary status. Often the registrar will have information that could affect the decision.

Finally, the registrar, working with the health services office, can alert the bursar’s office to students ineligible to preregister for the following semester because they lack the necessary immunizations required for enrollment.Understanding the Gender Gap

Marguerite J. Dennis has been a higher education administrator for more than 30 years, first at St. John’s University in New York; then at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.; and finally at Suffolk University in Boston. Dennis’ expertise includes sustainable enrollment and retention management programs and designing strategic international recruitment plans. She is the author of the white paper “Developing a Sustainable Retention and Student Success Program,” from which this article is excerpted.

This article appeared in Recruitment and Retention in Higher Education, 26.4 (2012): 7.