Workday Community Voices: An Inside Look at the Modern University Registrar’s Office

Technology has impacted many roles in academia, including the university registrar. Nancy Specht, assistant dean for institutional research and the university registrar for the University of Rochester in New York, explains how the registrar’s office has become a technology hub and partner to IT. Specht also talks about how the university is partnering with us and other customers on the continuing design of Workday Student, and why she turned from skeptic to Workday Student’s “biggest cheerleader.”

How has the role of university registrar evolved?

It’s changed a great deal. When I started 30 years ago, success meant registering students for classes, creating class schedules, and recording grades and distributing them to students. Now, the role is far less insular and expectations are broader. While the basic requirements are the same—integrity of records and services we provide—the registrar’s office is now the tech hub of University e-services and assessments, from course evaluations and electronic transcripts to degree audits. The registrar is no longer just a customer of IT, but a partner in developing services and products for students, faculty, and staff, and for reporting to external agencies.

“Change can be scary, so it’s important that a registrar help people develop a level of comfort with new technology and be able to teach them how to use it.”

How are students’ needs and expectations different than 10 years ago?

Today, students want services to be mobile and available 24/7, whether that’s ordering transcripts or viewing degree audits. While the registrar’s office is more of a back-office operation, we are responsible for providing student services and do everything we can to make them available when and how students need them. Though technology can sometimes make things a little less personal, it enables us to solve issues for students quickly so that we can spend more in-person time on meaningful activities, such as advising.

What are the biggest technology challenges facing universities?

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Nancy Specht, University of Rochester

The biggest challenge for the University of Rochester has been our 30-year-old student information system, which is why we are providing design input as Workday builds something different—Workday Student. While our current system has served us well, I liken it to an electronic file cabinet—it stores data, but I can’t search or use the data effectively. The breadth and depth of our service delivery has grown, but the system itself can’t. As a result, we have had to bolt on nearly 200 systems—from admission applications to degree audits—to get what we need, which has been labor and financially intensive. We have a remarkable team of programmers who handle integrations with the system, but people with mainframe-based skills are now few and far between and many of our current team members are eligible for retirement. It can take up to two years for someone to really understand how the system is put together, so this creates a huge challenge for us.

How did you become interested in Workday Student?

When I was hired by the University of Rochester to manage a student system implementation, we did not have the resources or financial and executive support for a full implementation, so we ended up spending the first five to seven years bolting on applications for the capabilities we needed. This was not sustainable, so the registrar’s office partnered with IT and made a strong argument that a system change was needed.

When we were approached by Dave Duffield to be part of the design team for Workday Student, I was a true skeptic. Now, I am the biggest cheerleader. I have looked at every other solution out there, both internationally and in the U.S., and believe that even the most modern ones are already 20 years old. Workday’s approach is forward thinking, and our conversations with the company are focused on how we would like to see a student system work versus how it is currently working for us. I believe that together, we are really moving the needle forward on student information systems.

What skills do you think today’s university registrar needs to have?

First and foremost, a university registrar needs sophisticated communication skills; able to communicate with every constituency whether in person or in writing. A registrar also needs a fairly deep understanding of information technology and its impact. I often serve as a facilitator between the technologists and the end users, making the case for certain technology advances and their importance. A registrar also needs to be able to do basic research, such as statistical evaluation, and develop reports and data in a way that helps leadership teams make decisions.

Want to hear what customers are saying about Workday Student Recruiting? Read “Workday Student Recruiting Customers Speak on Goals, Challenges, and Results.”