PACRAO Review May 2015 Edition

vintage_typewriter-01Volume 5 • Number 1 • May 2015

Download the entire issue: PACRAO Review May 2015

Social Media and Transfer Recruitment                                                                     Leesa M. Beck., University of California, Santa Barbara

Little concrete data exists on the efficacy of social media marketing for the purpose of college recruitment. This article reviews how University of California, Santa Barbara has leveraged social media, and its influence on transfer recruitment.


Admissions & Records Quality Control – Five Achievable Suggestions                  Joe Tate, University of Phoenix

Increasingly, institutions are being asked to embrace a holistic culture of continuous improvement and quality, which extends into the Admission and Registrar offices. This article identifies some low cost tools and methods which have proven to be effective to any quality management effort in Admissions and Records areas.


MOOCs, Where are We, What’s Next, and What Do Registrars Have to Do With It? Stephen Arod Shirreffs, Ph.D., Stanford University

MOOCs have been a hot topic in higher education and continue to be an area of interest for those that work in Registrar’s Offices. This article provides insight into the MOOC phenomenon and some considerations for the future of MOOCs and the role of the Registrar.


Unheard Voices: First Generation Students and the Community College         Colman Joyce, Clark College

Student persistence and retention is an important consideration for institutions today, and a student’s experience plays a large role in this. This qualitative research study explores the experiences of 38 first generation students enrolled at four different community colleges in Northern and Central Oregon, and provides thoughts on potential ways to improve the student experience for first generation students.

Social Media and Transfer Recruitment


With overall college enrollment on the decline in the U.S. (NSC, 2014), competition among colleges for top students is aggressive. As technology has streamlined and simplified the college application process, more students are choosing to apply to multiple schools, with over three-quarters of students applying to at least three schools (NACAC, 2013). As a result, traditional metrics for creating acceptance targets and calculating student yield are becoming less reliable, and it is no longer sufficient just to bring in large numbers of applications. The pressure is on to ensure that as many acceptances as possible materialize into students filling seats in classrooms. At the same time, budgets are tight. State cutbacks have hit public institutions hard, and many private schools saw sharp declines in their endowments and donations during the recession.

Admissions officers are thus looking seriously at how they can best and most cost-effectively appeal to the current generation of largely technically savvy, pro-social college applicants. One popular avenue is the use of social media, which is attractive both in its low cost and broad reach. However, little concrete data exists on the efficacy of social media marketing for the purpose of college recruitment.

In 2011, the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) began inviting prospective students to connect through a closed Facebook community as a part of our overall recruitment strategy. In this article we review how we assessed the effectiveness of that tool, specifically on the transfer student population, what we found in our assessment, and what we’ve learned over four years of using the tool.

Why We Suspect Social Media Works

Though reports of its effectiveness are largely anecdotal, it is little wonder that the possibilities of social media capture the imaginations of college recruiters. Social media allows for a much more meaningful and interactive recruitment experience than many of the more traditional channels. Rather than simply filling students’ mailboxes with pages of colorful and expensive marketing materials that they may never look at, and hoping for the best, social media offers the opportunity to invite prospective students into a dialog – get them thinking about and asking questions about the school. In addition, whether or not they engage and their level of engagement can be monitored.

Social media also offers a great deal of flexibility. There are countless ways to use it in recruitment – targeted ads, webinars, targeted communities, activities such as web scavenger hunts, surveys, hashtags, etc. And in many of these cases the students themselves become part of the promotional process, a source of information that other students might perceive as less biased and more reliable than the school itself. A 2009 study of college students in Texas found students’ use of social media to be positively associated with attitudes of social trust (Valenzuela, Park, & Kee), so it makes sense that recruiters would wish to tap into this seemingly trustworthy resource to generate interest in their schools.

Moreover, for decades researchers have observed the relationship between student engagement and integration, and college persistence (Cabrera, Castaneda, Nora, & Hengstler, 1992). Social media offers the first meaningful opportunity for colleges to extend that to prospective students, encouraging them to create relationships early, promote a sense of belonging, and develop loyalty to the school and their peers who attend or plan to attend.

Why Look at Transfer Students?

These possibilities are perhaps even more exciting when considered in terms of transfer students. Transfer students have long been shown to have a particularly difficult time adjusting to life on a new campus as they suffer from “transfer shock” from which they may have difficulty recovering, impacting not only the outcomes tracked and reported by the university, such as GPA, retention, and graduation, but also less easily measured outcomes such as level of involvement and social satisfaction (Laanan, 2007). By engaging transfer applicants prior to the point of matriculation, schools may be able not only to encourage their decision to attend, thus improving yield rates, but also ease their initial transition and ultimately improve their long-term outcomes.

Background of UCSB’s Assessment

The purpose of UCSB’s assessment was to examine the effectiveness of our closed Facebook community in the recruitment of transfer students. Specifically, we wanted to know: 1) Is the UCSB Facebook community effective as a recruitment tool? 2) If so, how effective? 3) Is it more effective for certain subpopulations than for others?

The study examined 4415 prospective junior-level transfer students admitted for Fall, 2012. Approximately half these students were randomly selected to receive an invitation to the university’s official Facebook community (invitation group), and half were not invited (control group). Descriptive statistics for the sample can be seen in Table 1.

The community functioned as a Facebook “app,” and was available only by invitation (not discoverable by search). Those who were invited to join the community received their initial invitation via email several days after receiving their offer of admission. It was promoted as a convenient and secure place to connect with other prospective and current students and learn more about the university.

Within the community, interaction was driven completely by students, who could form sub-communities, organize meetups, post photos, etc. Monitoring by university administrators was minimal, and only for the purpose of maintaining a safe and open environment. No “seed” posts were planted by staff.

Statistical Analyses and Results

Analyses were conducted using SPSS version 22.0. All data were analyzed within a treatment-on-the-treated (TOT) framework, which accounts for treatment uptake. In other words, it statistically controls for the fact that only those who actually joined the Facebook community, in this case 27.6% of those who were invited, could actually benefit from it. The Wald estimator was used to calculate a local average treatment effect (LATE), and two-stage least squares (2SLS) regression was used to conduct a more robust analysis.

The Wald estimator revealed an overall effect size of 5.3%, indicating that transfer students who participated in the Facebook community matriculated at a rate 5.3% higher than students who were not invited to participate, but otherwise likely would have.

Three different 2SLS models were tested. Each of these models incorporated four covariates – gender, ethnicity, highest parent education level, and residency classification – along with the students’ participation in the Facebook community. The model with the best overall fit incorporated interaction effects between the covariates and whether the students were invited to join the community, F(10, 4113) = 62.34, p < .001, R2 = .132. This indicates that different types of students responded differently to the invitation. Specifically, students whose parents had some college education were more likely to accept the invitation, and students who lived further away from the campus were less likely to accept the invitation. However, among students who participated in the community, benefits seemed to be roughly equal for all types of students.

The full results of the analysis can be seen in Table 2. After controlling for all other variables in the model, participation category (i.e. whether or not the student participated in the Facebook community) showed a significant impact on students’ matriculation patterns, β = .35, t(4104) = 15.44, p < .001. Not surprisingly, other variables that were found to significantly influence matriculation included ethnicity, parent education level, and residency classification.

What We Learned from the Assessment

The low overall participation in the social media community even among those who were invited (27.6%), as well as the modest model R2, indicate that most students make their matriculation decisions based on criteria that were beyond the scope of this assessment, and that social media networking opportunities have a limited ability to influence students’ behavior. In terms of college matriculation patterns, this makes sense. Any enrollment services veteran knows that most students applying to multiple colleges will have preferences among those to which they applied, and will accept admission to the school they most prefer among those to which they were offered admission. Thus, the students most likely to be influenced in their choice of college by participation in a social media community are those who have not yet made a definitive choice based on other criteria. However, the results do indicate that for students in this situation, this tool can have a statistically significant impact. When one considers a 5.3% difference in yield across a large pool of admits, this can mean a substantial difference in the overall number of matriculates.

The results may also have been stronger had we looked at freshmen rather than transfer applicants. Though transfers potentially stand to benefit more from social media in terms of a smooth transition to campus, they may also be more likely to have made up their minds about where they wish to go before ever having the opportunity to participate.

A Few Other Things We’ve Learned

In addition to what we learned from our assessment, we have also picked up quite a bit from four years of observing student interactions within the community. Here are some highlights:

  1. The transition to a new college follows a predictable cycle. The pattern of discussion within the community is similar from year to year. Initially students are excited about their acceptance and meeting new friends. They soon move on to more pragmatic concerns, like financial aid, housing, and getting classes. As orientation approaches, they begin to organize meet-ups and share tips for navigating the university environment. Near the beginning of school, we see a mix of practical and social concerns. The students tend to be great about supporting each other, regardless of what stage they are at. After a year or two, once you know what issues to expect at what points, you can also have staff in key areas on deck to assist them.
  2. A social media community is a recruitment tool, not a retention tool. Though students are really excited to connect in this way before they come to campus, participation in the community drops off sharply once they arrive. Though they continue to use it occasionally, particularly during the first year, for things like selling textbooks and finding carpools home, even this incidental use eventually tapers off.
  3. Prospective students want to hear from current students. Even though use among current students is low, you don’t want to purge them from the community. During our first year using this tool, we included only prospective and no current students, which generated a lot of negative feedback. Prospective students really want to hear what the campus is like from those who have already experienced it, and there are always a few current students ready to jump in and answer their questions.
  4. Students don’t group themselves in the way school staff might expect. When we initially launched the community in 2011, we seeded it with a number of interest-based sub-communities focused around topics like majors, residence halls, and student organizations. However, all of the most popular sub-communities were since created by students, and cover everything from “Laughing” to “Virginia Wolfe.” To date students have created well over 3000 sub-communities.
  5. Tone matters. If you have staff putting out any kind of messaging within the community, it shouldn’t be cutesy, patronizing, or institutional. Students want to be talked to straight and like adults. Cheekiness is encouraged!
  6. They don’t want to win an iPad. If you use the community to solicit feedback (e.g. “Fill out this survey for a chance to win…”), don’t expect the opportunity for big prizes to motivate students. Better to appeal to their sense of community and desire to contribute. And keep those surveys short!
  7. Students love connecting with each other online! Regardless of the ultimate impact on recruitment, it’s clear that prospective students enjoy “meeting” one another before coming to campus, commiserating with peers who are struggling with some of the same doubts and questions, getting the inside scoop on campus life, and feeling like they are part of the larger campus community.

So the ultimate conclusion we were able to draw from our study was that, yes, social media networking communities can have a positive impact on recruitment, particularly for students who are on the fence. However, it is important to understand that students are going to connect this way with or without us, creating their own social media communities if we don’t provide them. The effectiveness of social media as a recruitment tool may soon be a moot point, as having a strong social media presence will be necessary for institutions simply to keep pace with their peers and student expectations.





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  • Laanan, F. S. (2001). Transfer student adjustment. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2001, 5–13.
  • Laanan, F. S. (2007). Studying transfer students – part II: Dimensions of transfer students’ adjustment. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 31(1), 37-59.
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  • National Association for College Admission Counseling. (2013). 2013 state of college admission. Arlington, VA: Clinedinst, M. E., Hurley, S. F., & Hawkins, D. A.
  • National Student Clearinghouse. (2014). Current term enrollment estimates – Spring 2014. Herndon, VA.
  • Tabachnick, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (2007). Using multivariate statistics (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
  • Valenzuela, S., Park, N. & Kee, K. F. (2009), Is there social capital in a social network site?: Facebook use and college students’ life satisfaction, trust, and participation. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14: 875–901.

Leesa M. Beck is the University  Registrar at the University of California, Santa Barbara Prior to serving in her current role as University Registrar at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Leesa Beck spent a decade working in enrollment services technology. She has played an integral role in SIS implementations at two separate institutions, and served as project manager or functional lead on numerous successful systems projects. She is currently writing her dissertation on the use of social media in enrollment services, and expects to receive her PhD from UCSB later this year. Leesa received her BA from Cornell University and her MBA from Pepperdine University.

Author’s Note: I would like to acknowledge Keri Bradford, Student Affairs Social Media Coordinator, who co-authored and co-presented the original presentation at the PACRAO Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon.


Admissions & Records Quality Control – Five Achievable Suggestions

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Education released a report addressing the future of higher education that urged post-secondary institutions to “embrace a culture of continuous innovation and quality improvement,” further clarifying that such a culture should be characterized by improved efficiency and reduced costs (The U.S. Department of Education, 2006). This call for a full institutional embrace of quality improvement suggests the need for an all-encompassing approach that goes beyond just faculty and curriculum to include key support functions like those involved with admissions and records administration. The paucity of peer-reviewed literature on the subject of quality in higher education administration suggests that formal quality control is uncharted terrain for the “back offices” of higher learning institutions—or at least that those of our colleagues who do follow a documented process for quality control are not yet sharing best practices in a formal way. In either case, my purpose is to make an early contribution to what I hope will be more substantive discussions on the topic given the exigency articulated by the Department of Education. What follows, in that spirit, are some low cost tools and methods which have proven to be effective to any quality management effort.

Suggestion 1: Standardize and Document Your Processes

Despite its negative connotation in contemporary social contexts, conformity is generally a good thing when you’re trying to promote quality and continuous improvement. Conformity leads to consistency in processing, and that requires a documented standard process to which operational and quality control staff can refer.

If standardized processing documentation is lacking in your department, begin by establishing expectations for the creation and maintenance of standard operating procedures. Such expectations might include requirements that all processes be documented and that all process documentation be reviewed at least once each year. Performing an occasional audit of the process documentation for each functional area based on those standards ensures its accuracy and conveys leadership’s commitment to standardized processing. When documentation for a process is non-existent, work with subject matter experts and employees who excel at performing the process to document a standard approach.

Suggestion 2: Prioritize Quality Concerns and Risks

If you had unlimited resources, you could leverage technology to mistake-proof all your processes or provide staff to inspect every transcript, diploma, student record update, etc. that comes out of your department to ensure accuracy. Since resources sufficient to accommodate either of those solutions are not realistic, you will need to prioritize quality concerns and risks so that the limited resources you have available are optimally deployed.

One effective (and low cost) tool for prioritizing the allocation of limited resources is the failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA). The FMEA is a useful tool in process improvement projects that can be effectively adapted to provide a risk-centered framework for evaluating and prioritizing departmental quality concerns. The FMEA-based approach to risk assessment involves working with process owners and regulatory experts to identify and rank departmental risks according to likelihood, severity of impact, and difficulty of detection. Using this approach will give you a logical, effective way to evaluate areas of concern with respect to the quality of your outputs, and will allow you to make critical resource allocation decisions based on meaningful data and analysis (Tate & Foraker, 2015).

Suggestion 3: Audit Your Outputs

You may not have the resources to inspect all your process outputs, but a single individual—or small group of individuals—who can be dedicated to reviewing methodically-selected samples of those outputs will provide you with valuable feedback that you can use to reduce defects (inaccuracies and omissions). A good source of guidance on audit and inspection sampling is The ASQ Auditing Handbook, which provides current sampling methods endorsed by the American National Standards Institute and the benefits and risks associated with each approach (Russell, 2013).

The individuals performing quality control audits do not have to be experts in the processes themselves, as they should be auditing outputs against documented policies and standard operating procedures. Relying on process and policy documentation as the basis of your audits will, in turn, facilitate your effort to keep those documents up to date.

To be effective, your auditing staff should follow best practices promoted by the Institute of Internal Auditors—including the consideration of condition, criterion, cause, and effect—when determining whether a defect is present in an item from the audit sample. For example, you might conduct an audit of updates to data in your student information system, wherein the auditing employee sees that a critical piece of demographic information is inaccurate (condition). The auditing employee knows the information is inaccurate because standard operating procedures indicate that this information is sourced from supporting documents, such as a signed admission application—and the application reflects that piece of information differently than it appears in the student information system (criterion). This may have occurred because of a system malfunction or typographical data entry error (cause—we’ll have more to say about this in suggestion #4 below). The impact of the discrepancy could include a range of possible outcomes, including inaccurate demographic information being printed on the student’s transcript and diploma (effect).

Another best practice to guide the audit program is to provide feedback to management and staff that is “accurate, objective, clear, concise, constructive, and timely.” (The Institute of Internal Auditors, 2013). This level of professionalism will be critical to maintaining a constructive relationship between those who perform the process and those who audit its outputs. Employees tasked with performing audits should always be held accountable to those standards.

Suggestion 4: Incentivize Feedback from Process Owners and Process Performers

An independent audit function can be a curse and a blessing to the quality control program; objective analysis and feedback being the blessing, and lack of process insight regarding the potential causes of defect trends being the curse. However, you can have your cake and eat it by incentivizing process owners and process performers to give you prompt and detailed feedback on the cause of each defect identified in the course of an audit. Managers and supervisors typically welcome the opportunity to leverage audit results as a quality-related performance measurement they can use to coach their staff, which has the added benefit of making individual audit feedback very important to each processing employee.

When an inaccuracy or omission is found and logged in the course of an audit, you can notify the employee who processed the transcript request (and his or her manager) in an email report. That report may include a prompt for the employee to acknowledge the finding as either human error (in which case the finding would factor into the employee’s performance coaching and evaluations), or as the result of some cause outside of their control (technology problems, communication gaps, inadequate job aids or standard operating procedures, etc.). Upon receiving notification of a defect that was not due to human error, employees are naturally anxious to clarify that fact for management and the auditing staff. When you receive feedback (validated by management) that a given nonconformity was legitimately caused by something other than human error—for example, a confirmed technology problem or a gap in employee training curriculum—your team can update the audit log for that process with the newly clarified cause of the finding.

This feedback from staff and managers is important because human errors are not the only source of quality defects. When your audit log reflects all the other contributing factors (that staff and management are best equipped to identify for you) in a way that can be sorted and searched, you can then analyze those completed logs for trends in defect types and defect causes on an ongoing basis. The result is a more accurate and robust source of knowledge about the gaps and inefficiencies that develop over the life of an evolving process, but that may otherwise be difficult to identify and mitigate.

Suggestion 5: Know When and Where to Take Corrective Action

Statistical process control (SPC) is a low-cost way to leverage audit data to determine if and when some kind of special intervention may be needed to stem a trend in defects. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of SPC, seek out a reputable source of open access training and tutorials on the subject ( is one particularly helpful online resource).

Applying SPC can be as simple as using a spreadsheet template into which you regularly enter the total number of items in each audit sample and the corresponding number of defects. This provides a defect rate for each audit sample. The defect rate could then be plotted on a control (p) chart that will show you whether “special cause” variation has occurred in the process—in other words, a point (or a series of points) on the chart that represent a statistically abnormal variation in defect rates for the process. If you see special cause variation in the control chart, or a defect rate that goes beyond what process owners have determined to be a “maximum allowable defect rate,” an analysis of the audit data from the dates in question can be performed to identify trends in defect types and causes. This information can then be communicated to the process manager, who would be responsible for determining an action plan for mitigating the identified trend.


The suggestions offered above are informed by external sources of industry expertise—including the American Society for Quality ( and the Institute of Internal Auditors (—and have proven to be relevant across a variety of industries. You can validate the effectiveness of your own quality control and improvement efforts by applying process evaluation techniques encouraged by the Southwest Alliance for Excellence ( in its Performance Excellence award programs. For example, you can conduct benchmark audits of department outputs from the time periods before and after you implement the quality control methods described above to determine whether process defect rates are declining, and whether defect trend mitigation rates are increasing as a result of those efforts.

When implemented effectively, your quality control program will provide institutional leadership with enhanced awareness of what constitutes your most critical quality and compliance risks, and an increased assurance of the effectiveness of controls in place to improve quality, compliance, and efficiency. Additionally, you will be contributing to an organizational climate that fosters innovation and continuous improvement in a way that will move your institution to be increasingly more in alignment with the vision articulated by the U.S. Department of Education in its 2006 report.


  • Russell, J. (2013). The ASQ Auditing Handbook, Fourth Edition. Milwaukee: American Society for Quality, Quality Press.
  • Tate, J., & Foraker, W. (2015). FMEA to the Rescue: Applying the Process Behind the Scenes to Provide QC Oversight. Quality Progress, 63.
  • The Institute of Internal Auditors. (2013). Retrieved from The Institute of Internal Auditors:
  • The U.S. Department of Education. (2006). “A Test of Leadership–Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education”. Retrieved from The U.S. Department of Education:

Joe Tate is the Quality Control Manager for the University of Phoenix Office of Student Records. He earned his MBA from University of Phoenix; MA in English from Northern Arizona University; and BA in History from Arizona State University. Joe is an ASQ Certified Quality Auditor and a member of the Southwest Alliance for Excellence 2014 Board of Examiners.







MOOCs, Where are We, What’s Next, and What Do Registrars Have to Do With It?

MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) arrived in a tsunami, as Stanford President John Hennessy put it in 2012 (Auletta, 2102), and universities soon set out to determine, each in its own way, how they might surf that wave for their own benefit and the benefit of their students, as well as for the benefit of the larger world. But these days, with that flood of equal parts optimism and trepidation still in recent memory, it seems that higher education has carried on fundamentally unchanged, even if challenged.

At least part of that early “surfing” of the wave was an effort to stay ahead of the purportedly inspired notion that the “disruptive” character of MOOCs would wash away the entire higher education system. Now the disruption game, if I may call it that, seems populated in equal parts by visionaries and blowhards, so universities felt compelled to extract from the visionaries those parts of the vision which would enhance our mission while smiling benignly at the blowhards in the sure knowledge that high winds eventually pass.

It struck this writer that part of the disruptive promise, or threat, of MOOCs was premised upon the notion that teenagers and 20-somethings would, in large numbers, craft full and rounded educational experiences from their bedrooms. Those of us who have actually met teenagers and 20-somethings knew that this would be the exception as opposed to the rule. Certainly crafting a higher education experience is rather different than opening an Instagram account and populating it with smiling selfies, and different again from playing with farm animals on Facebook. Education involves growth in places where a student might never have expected to grow.

This is perhaps simplistic, and only feet-off-the-ground visionaries and the ax-to-grind blowhards seem to have been forecasting the end of higher education. The pragmatists — and certainly registrars count ourselves as among the pragmatists — saw another tool, albeit a potentially transformative one, that could augment education for those already included in it. Equally significantly, this tool could provide pathways into higher education for those traditionally excluded from it. It’s not as simple as blowing up the system and naively expecting the result to be revolutionary. As Hennessy said in 2012, “Part of our challenge is that right now we have more questions than we have answers … We know this is going to be important and, in the long term, transformative to education. We don’t really understand how yet” (Auletta, 2102, para 64).

Now in 2015, the tsunami seems more like a warm summer rain. We are seeing a strong current in MOOC development leading toward professional accreditation MOOCs and in adult education for degree-holders. (The present writer confesses that he did not quite finish a fascinating MOOC on data modeling but from which he developed key parts of a presentation on Diffusion of Innovation given, inter alia, at PACRAO.) And we are hearing suggestions that MOOCs may be the most logical way to extend AP courses to those large parts of the country that do not, or are unable to, offer them to their rising students.

The language of the discussion has changed. When I set out to create a presentation for PACRAO 2014 on the subject of “MOOCS: A Reverse Inventory, or what remains to be done,” I did not so much want to draw a detailed map, the more so given that the uncertainties which President Hennessy addressed have not been resolved, as to sketch out how the landscape is shifting and what that means for registrars. For example, Jenny Hamilton of the University of London (University of London International Programmes, 2014) has opined as to how the discussion has shifted from terms such as commercial viability, business plans, scalability, and market share to education, purpose of education, pedagogy, methodology, and feedback to ordinary courses.

In other words, the vision is focusing on what is important rather than what is disruptive. Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity, stated in October 2014 that, “The basic MOOC is a great thing for the top 5 percent of the student body, but not a great thing for the bottom 95 percent” (Selingo, 2014, para 8). This is turning disruption into a gentle conversation. Udacity’s model now focuses on becoming what Mariappan Jawaharlal (Professor of Mechanical Engineering California State Polytechnic University, Pomona) calls “the online version of DeVry University” (Jawharlal, 2015, para 2). This turn to industry evokes only mere nods to the democratization and globalization that was the grand goal of the disruptors and visionaries of the early tsunami.

But Simon Nelson, the CEO of FutureLearn argued at the Going Global 2014 Conference that he relished the reduction in polarization in the debate about MOOCs (British Council, 2014) quoting Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor, University of the Witwatersrand, who spoke of the danger of romanticizing MOOCs, as if we could simplify the challenges of educating people around the world with this one simple solution (Baker, 2014).

So the promise of MOOCs is no longer viewed as revolutionary, but MOOCs clearly are on the scene, and will create change in higher education. How do registrars fit into this more livable landscape? How can we contribute to optimizing this slower evolution to the benefit of students present and future? If we are the most tenured officers in the university, what is our new role?

In our most basic role, we keep the records. We provide the data that charts how a student changes, mapping the beginning point to the end point, with all the accomplishments and hiccups in between. Regardless of the fact that MOOCs are going to be something other, and perhaps something less, than the original disruptive promise of a tsunami, we are going to have to deal with floods of information from new and uncharted sources, and in so doing, endeavor to benefit our students.

New approaches to formal learning will create new types of students, including those who cobble together careers from multiple institutions, including MOOC learning, and those who deepen their education in non-traditional ways such as MOOCs after the degree is awarded. As Andrew Abbott said in 2002 to the incoming University of Chicago Class of 2006 “Education is not about content. It is not even about skills. It is a habit or stance of mind. It is not something you have. It is something you are” (Abbott, 2002, para 50). If that is so, how do we represent a record built in multiple venues that achieves that goal?

The greatest contribution we can make lies in moving to a more expansive idea of a transcript that goes beyond a chronological series of entries consisting of “a vague course title, a number suggesting some kind of divisional hierarchy, and a letter grade of wholly unknown integrity”, as Kevin Carey complained in his 2013 Chronicle of Higher Education piece [Carey, 2013, para 3). Why not a transcript that combines work done in multiple institutions and venues? Why not note that a course was taken as a MOOC, with a link to the MOOC itself? If a course was given on a flipped class basis, we should proffer that information and, again, provide links to archives of what occurred.

The decision on how to award outside credit for MOOCs does not rest with registrars, but recording and representing what happened in a transparent way is in our bailiwick. As we develop electronic and enhanced transcripts, we will do well to keep the needs of these multiple-institution students foremost in our minds. The rise in importance of centralized data collection as exemplified by the National Student Clearinghouse provides new opportunities for students and registrars to “mash up” achievement data. The challenge is out there; LinkedIn provides user the opportunity to represent diverse educational experience. But LinkedIn lacks the institutional imprimatur that registrars possess; that imprimatur will be of continuing importance to the new multi-venue students that MOOCs may create.

Perhaps the most important new actor in this expansion of the role of the registrar is the Groningen Declaration group. They state their goal as follows: “we make Digital Student Data Portability happen. Citizens world wide should be able to consult and share their authentic educational data with whomever they want, whenever they want, wherever” (Groningen Declaration, 2014, para 2). No statement anywhere more succinctly states encapsulates the challenge of MOOCs. It is not good enough to learn; students need to be able to prove that they have learned and to demonstrate the fullness of who they have become through learning. That’s where we come in.

President Hennessy, with whom I opened this discussion, recently spoke expansively on undergraduate education and MOOCs, what we have learned and where we are going. “An undergraduate degree ‘is a lot more than a group of unrelated courses,’ he said, and its ‘value proposition is different’ from the sum total of credits” (Jaschik, 2015, para 10). I believe, with that understanding in mind, that our job is to create an expansive record that illuminates pathways and relationships in a student’s learning and growing. That would not be the tsunami with which I started this piece; rather it would be a solid accomplishment that will arm our students as they make their way in a changing and uncertain world.


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Stephen Arod Shirreffs is the Associate University Registrar at Stanford, broadly responsible for communications, including web sites and new publishing technologies such as the Stanford Bulletin’s ExploreCourses and ExploreDegrees sites. He has been in the Stanford Registrar’s Office since 2001. Stephen holds a doctorate in South and Southeast Asian Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. He hails originally from Canada, and has lived in San Francisco since 1981. He is a graduate of the Stanford Technical Leadership Program (STLP) which has led to rewarding collaboration with many colleagues in the IT world at Stanford, including in the annual Stanford IT Unconference and in a Community of Practice collaboration group. A full version of Stephen’s profile can be found at:

Unheard Voices: First Generation Students and the Community College

Students who are first in their families are less likely to persist in college than their peers who have grown up in college educated families. This qualitative research study explores the experiences of 38 first generation students enrolled at four different community colleges in Northern and Central Oregon.

Whilst researching, I became aware that the current literature specifically focused on ways to help first generation students adapt to the university. I became convinced that there was a gap in examining the lives and self-reported experiences of these students. Not only that, but there was very little research on first generation students conducted in the community college environment. One of the main reasons for this is that part of the faculty plan at four-year universities requires a research component. However, in the community college, faculty are paid to teach, and thus there is less research conducted in these institutions.

Also, rarely addressed in the existing literature are the difficulties and hurdles that first generation learners undergo while adapting and learning in college. This research aimed to explore the in-college and external experiences of first generation community college students as they attempted to succeed academically while maintaining their personal commitments and responsibilities.

The Study Parameters

I chose to make this a qualitative study in order to make a contrast to the significant amount of quantitative research on this population. I wished to add the voices of first generation students to the literature in order to help inform practitioners of the gaps in the literature and thus impact access, persistence, and completion.

I set up a Pilot Study at Central Oregon Community College, and ended up interviewing 8 students over the course of 18 months. After the study was complete, I set up focus groups at three other Oregon community colleges. These included: Chemeketa Community College, Mount Hood Community College, and Tillamook Bay Community College. These colleges are urban, suburban, and rural. I tried to get an idea of whether the findings at Central Oregon Community college were applicable to other institutions.

The focus group attendees filled out a brief survey/questionnaire. The survey was then used as a means to start discussion. In the course of the pilot study and focus groups 38 students completed the survey.

These students were picked based on the following criteria:

  • Age-a mix of traditional age college students and mature students
  • Gender-an even mix of male and female participants
  • Diversity-A cohort of students that represented the actual student body diversity
  • Authentically first generation-First in their family to attend college

The Findings

The results of the interviews were transcribed and searched for common themes of the experiences of first generation community college students. These themes were then broken down into on-campus experiences and off-campus experiences that affect student persistence.

The themes that stood out in this research project were: employment, women and the uneven burden, and the mature student experience.


Understandably, it is difficult for colleges to provide help in the employment arena, however of all the students in the study only one was employed on a college campus in some capacity. Tinto’s (1975, 1987, 1993) theory of student departure pointed out that student persistence was directly related to involvement on campus. Many of the students were employed off-campus in minimum-wage positions. The students who participated in the study needed to be employed to support their families or pay utilities and rent whilst attending community college. Several of the students reported that their shifts at work had a negative influence on their ability to attend classes.   The level of importance that the participants attributed to completing college was often superseded by more urgent needs, such as working long hours to pay for rent, food, and transportation. In comparison, attending class seemed like a luxury that could be cut. This is one of the primary reasons it is difficult for first generation students to succeed in college. According to Astin (1985), “Students learn by becoming involved” (p.133). First generation students in the community college often commute to college for class and leave directly thereafter to care for families or to go to work. They are less likely to be involved with on-campus activities. The research I conducted at the community colleges in this study confirmed that to be the case. However, I would argue that our colleges need to encourage our first generation students to apply for positions on-campus, and thus lead to greater retention of this population. Employment is crucial for first generation students. Working a moderate amount of hours at the community college could significantly improve a student’s bond with the college. Of the 38 students in the study, only one was employed on-campus and many of the other students worked long hours at minimum-wage jobs that would affect their ability to succeed in college. On-campus positions would also give these students the chance to interact with staff and faculty and gain a greater degree of college knowledge.

Women and the Uneven Burden

In the colleges that participated in this study there was a distinct lack of resources for female first generation students. The community college experience proved to be very different for the female first generation students in the study. Their level of responsibilities far outweighed that of the men. In my conversations with college administrators, I have found out that some colleges once had Women’s Centers on campus, however in the past decades the budget cuts on campus have cut what many feel are non-essential programs. There are more female students at college now than there are males, and the landscape of education has changed, but if this study proves anything it is that we are certainly far from equal in the burdens of care-giving and social responsibilities.

This is often the norm for working class or first generation students. Evans’ (2009) study showed similar results. “For the girls in this study there was a widespread recognition that application to a university close to their home was the only financially viable way of securing higher education” (Evans, 2009, p.346). Of the entire sample of female students in the same study, only two of them intended on moving away from home to attend university, and those two were moving to a town where they had family ties.

The women in this study were almost without exception placed in the role of primary caregivers. The women identified with the role; however they did see the unfairness of it. In some cases they expressed bitterness about the lack of responsibility attributed to the men in their lives. Most were doing it all themselves. Some of the women were even made homeless through divorce, unemployment, and abuse. That they were attending community college at all is a significant undertaking. The reasons these women were attending college was almost without exception as a means to increase earning potential in order to support their families. Like the female participants in Evans’ (2009) study, the women viewed increased earnings as a way of improving the living circumstances of the entire family. They have diverged to some degree with their expected path and were trailblazing a new and different territory. The world they grew up in was different. Men might have played a bigger role, been the provider. Many of the female participants were divorced or estranged from their husbands. They were going it alone. The women in this study showed similar trends to Reay’s (2009) study. They found themselves without strong male support and were succeeding in their goal to become nurses, social workers, and treatment counselors. They were turning the tables, and were focused on providing for others and becoming self-reliant.   However, they were doing this while still managing to be the primary caregivers. The female participants were improving the general living circumstances for their families, and changing the cultural and social capital for the next generations. Their children will not be first generation students. They will grow up observing their mothers’ college experience and the benefits such as improved employment opportunities that come with college success. However, the women also reported feelings of guilt and frustration because attending college took them away from their children.

According to White (2001) “The unique characteristics and experiences of this non-traditional female population result in support and counselling needs that differ from those of traditional college-age students. Increased awareness of the stresses, challenges, and additional responsibilities faced by adult women can be helpful to administrators and student services personnel interested in providing a supportive environment” (White, 2001 p.3). Opportunities exist for the community colleges in this study to provide a greater level of support for these students. The adult female students seemed to feel that they were on their own for the most part.

Women from immigrant families also faced cultural hurdles to overcome in order to attend college. They needed to convince their families of the importance of higher education. Barriers that immigrant female students face may be centered on maintaining the traditions of the family or the expectation of an arranged marriage within their immigrant community. “Young women in immigrant families have a difficult time. Some parents believe the adage that if you educate your daughters you lose them” (Carr, Kefalas, 2009, p. 39). College is a big unknown, and many immigrant parents do not want to lose control of their children in what is a new country to them.

The female participants in this study were aware that the surest way to break the cycle of economic stagnation is to improve their economic, social, and cultural capital through education and better employment opportunities.

The Mature Student Experience

There is a significant difference in the way that first generation high school students experience the community college versus those that attend community college as mature students. For those that attend community college directly after high school their transition is smoother. For the most part, the results of this study showed that they adapt and quickly adhere to the norms of the community college environment. Of course, there may be other factors that affect their ability to stay in college such as transportation, finances, and dependent care. The adult/mature first generation students were attending college primarily because their traditional avenues of employment had ceased to exist. They found themselves without any value as workers in the global economy, and realized that college offered them the opportunity of updating their skill sets to become of value in the job market.

The mature first generation students in the study struggled to adapt to the norms of the community college. “Returning to a formal learning environment can therefore pose as a somewhat paradoxical experience for mature-age learners in that they need both change and stability for personal growth, yet to achieve and maintain stability, they must undergo personal change of some nature” (Willans, 2011. p.2). Their cultural and social capital was not of a level to allow them to survive in the great recession and limited job markets. Not only the level of change involved, but their external obligations such as childcare, employment, divorce, financial issues, and transportation problems were much more prevalent than with the younger students. These responsibilities often trumped college as the most important part of their lives.

Adult learners are self-directed and independent, with a wealth of experience from which to draw on when learning, and a need to see immediate relevance in their education as it relates to their current social roles (Knowles, 1980). According to Knowles (1980), “The psychological climate should be one which causes the adults to feel accepted, respected and supported; in which there exists a spirit of mutuality between teachers and students as joint inquirers; in which there is freedom of expression without fear of punishment or ridicule. People tend to feel more ‘adult’ in an atmosphere that is friendly and informal, in which they are known by name and valued as unique individuals, than in the traditional school atmosphere” (Knowles, 1980, p.45). The only validation these students encountered was directly attributed to their own success in the classroom. They were not receiving validation or respect for their experience as adults.   As Schlossberg, et al. (1989) stated, the feeling of mattering keeps adult students engaged in learning. Many of the adult students in the study had not felt validated, and several of the students mentioned that they looked forward to our interviews, because it made them feel that they were important, and after our meetings they felt more inspired and confident in their abilities to succeed.

I would argue that our community colleges recognize the difference in the different types of first generation students and aim to meet their needs in a more thoughtful way. Currently the community colleges treat first generation students as a general student-type without doing further research on the different types of students that fall under the first generation umbrella. During the intake process, community colleges may want to consider different information sessions for mature students in a similar vein to how they are conducted in the Irish universities and technical colleges. Ireland’s higher education system employs Mature Student Officers who are a first point of contact for adult students applying to university. They plan information sessions specifically for this group of students where they learn about the resources available such as childcare, financial opportunities, time management skills, and other areas important to this group of students. A similar model might be advisable for community colleges. Colleges should develop different approaches to first generation students who are transitioning from high school and those that are mature students. Further areas for research should focus on how to validate and recognize adult students who are going to college for the first time. This population is harder to connect with before they arrive on the college campus and this is an opportunity where community colleges can improve their outreach in their districts. High school students found in brick and mortar buildings are provided bridge programs as a way to help them learn about college before they arrive. There is no similar way to provide outreach to adult students. One clear need is that we need to reach out to all adult prospect students after their first contact to try to help them prepare for when they arrive on the community college campus.


In closing, I would argue that our higher education institutions need to conduct a greater amount of qualitative research. Surveys and quantitative data are not sufficient. The voices of students are missing from the research. Students are willing to share their experiences if we as practitioners are willing to listen.


  • Astin, A. W. (1985). Achieving Educational Excellence: A critical assessment of priorities and practice in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Carr, P. J. & Kefalas, M. (2009) Hollowing out the middle : the rural brain drain and what it means for America. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press.
  • Evans, S. (2009). In a Different Place: Working-class Girls and Higher Education. Sociology. 2009 43: 340. Sage.
  • Knowles, M.S. (1980). The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Cambridge Adult Education.
  • Reay, D.; Crozier, G.; Clayton, J. (2009) ‘Strangers in Paradise’? Working-class Students in Elite Universities. Sociology, v. 43, n. 6, p. 1103-1121.
  • Schlossberg, N. K. (1989). Marginality and Mattering: Key issues in building community. New Directions for Student Services, 48, 5–15.
  • Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • White, J., & ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges, L. A. (2001). Adult Women in Community Colleges. ERIC Digest.
  • Willans, J., & Seary, K. (2011). “I Feel like I’m Being Hit from All Directions”: Enduring the Bombardment as a Mature-Age Learner Returning to Formal Learning. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 51(1), 119-142.

Colman (Colm) Joyce, Ph.D Candidate, is the Associate Dean for Enrollment at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. He has worked in higher education for 15 years in Oregon and Washington. He is defending his Ph.D dissertation in Ireland in June 2015. Colman currently serves as the 2015 WaACRAO President.