“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“A college or university registrar!!”
-Said no one, ever.
Let’s face it: when people who are not in higher education ask what you do for a living and you respond with “I’m a registrar,” you probably then receive a polite smile and nod that clearly states, “I have no idea what that is, but it sounds important.” There is not a major in “registrar studies,” and most often people do not know we exist until after they graduate or there is some academic disciplinary action (not the ideal way to get to know the registrar!). The job of registrar is one that requires a certain set of skills. One must be objective, organized, optimistic, analytical and helpful, or as I like to call it, “OOO-AH!”
Do you remember your first year as a registrar? Remember that feeling when you received your new transcript paper with your name and signature at the bottom? I do, because I am living it right now. I am currently in my first year as the registrar of Los Angeles College of Music. Through my involvement with PACRAO I have learned that almost every registrar has a unique story about how they made it to their position. Some began as student workers in the registrar’s office, some worked in registrar adjacent offices and filled the void left by a retired registrar, and some just stumbled into it by sheer chance. I recall taking several career aptitude tests in high school; these tests help you figure out what you’re good at, what is important to you, and the jobs that match your skills and interests. My results were always very high in the authority and empathy areas. According to these tests, I was meant to be a police officer, psychologist, or teacher–in other words, helping people.
With my test results in mind, I went on to earn a BA in psychology with a minor in sociology. As I set off into the post-college working world, I learned that the test was correct after all; my passion truly was helping people. My first professional job was working at a nonprofit, subsidized childcare agency. It was there that I saw the barriers and struggles working parents deal with on a daily basis.
One particular person who made a tremendous impact on me was a young single mother, Evelyn*. She was seeking the agency services to help achieve her goal of finishing school and raising her child. She was a full-time student at a local community college and also worked full-time as a waitress. As part of the program, participants enrolled in school had to show their grades and be in good standing to continue. As her case manager, I had regular contact with her and she began to confide in me more and more. One day she walked in with her daughter and had her head held high and said “I did it!” Evelyn had maintained a 3.7 GPA, earned her AA degree, and was transferring to a nearby state college. She was so happy and broke down in tears (as did I) when she began telling me about her achievements. Since she was transferring out, she was also leaving the program. Her new college provided full-time childcare and a job on campus. Seeing her succeed in the face of adversity left a powerful mark on my heart.
Unfortunately, in time, this position took an emotional toll on me. For every story like Evelyn’s there were two others that were not as triumphant. I knew it was time for a change. I knew I wanted to help people, but I really wanted to help people be their best by achieving a college education.
My registrar story starts in the admissions office (registrar adjacent!). I was an Assistant Director of Re-Admissions for a private for-profit college. I remember being so excited to finally have my first real job at a college. I very naively thought to myself that I was going to change the lives of people forever! I was unaware that my position would involve a lot of cold calling, which was not one of my strengths. However, my director recognized this in me and decided to give me registrar access to our student information system to help out with new student registration.
Eventually, my registrar-like duties began to expand and my admissions role was only about twenty-five percent of my daily work. I realized that this was what I enjoyed doing. It was challenging, exciting, fast-paced, and fun! This led me to my last position as Assistant Registrar at Art Center College of Design. I stayed in that role for nine years.
In those nine years, I fully developed my passion for working with students in higher education. However, my career aptitude test results and Evelyn never quite left my brain, so, I went on to pursue my other passion–helping my community and teaching. In 2014, I earned a MA in Chicana and Chicano studies from California State University, Northridge. Earning a master’s degree helped me give back; I began teaching at the community college level–something I love and still do to this day.
Earlier this year, I left my position as Assistant Registrar. I am now the Registrar at Los Angeles College of Music, a small, private music college. With nine years of registrar office experience and leadership positions within PACRAO under my belt, I was able to bypass the associate level position in the “traditional” registrar trajectory of assistant, associate and lead registrar. This is something that makes me both proud and terrified! While I know I have the experience, the lead registrar role is something that I am still getting used to. As I mentioned earlier, it is not a position you learn about in school; it is something you learn as you go.
Thankfully, through my relationships and connections with PACRAO as well as a lot of reading, I have been able to hold my head above water. PACRAO members Len Hightower and Marlo Waters wrote an authored a study and article that has truly helped me: A Qualitative Exploration of Perspectives on the Management and Leadership Roles of The Registrar (2016). Their study explored both the perceptions and leadership roles of the registrar. The study, while limited, was very well rounded: it included administrators, faculty, and registrars. The article contains sound advice that new registrars like me should not take for granted. For example, “the participants perceived the registrar as needing to gain trust and maintain relationships with others. Sixty-one percent of participants also said it was important for the registrar to be visionary and able to see the big picture” (26). This is something that I think about on a daily basis. Working at a very small school that is rapidly growing, I have to keep thinking about the larger picture and remind my colleagues that little problems with temporary solutions will only be magnified in the future. Reading this and many other articles is what led me to think about what I needed to focus on to be successful: being objective, organized, optimistic, analytical, and helpful (OOO-AH!).
As an adjunct faculty member at CSU Northridge and East Los Angeles College, I am also able to see the faculty points of view on process and procedure. Being both in and out of the classroom has given me a perspective and enables me to be a better registrar. It’s still pretty weird (and very cool) to be in senior management meetings and have people ask “what do you think?” and have them actually listen! I am also still getting used to fixing problems that arise. It’s a lot like when a child starts to scream and I return him or her to the parent, except now I am the parent, which for someone who does not have children is still rather bizarre.
Since I am always looking to grow and be the best higher education professional that I can be, I decided to return to school and earn a doctorate. This fall I will be starting my Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership with a Higher Education Administration concentration at the University of Southern California. I am certain that as my educational career begins to unfold, my leadership position as a registrar and overall advocate for college students will expand. I know that this year will bring many challenges. Despite this, I am staying focused, OOOAHing and always reaching out to my PACRAO colleagues when I have questions or doubts. I guess my high school career assessment was correct: as a registrar and adjunct instructor I am supportive, empathetic and authoritative every day. Here’s to looking to many more years in higher education administration, receiving my very own transcript paper and as always, seeking the advice of other professionals.
*Evelyn is a pseudonym
Articles I read and highly recommend to new registrars
Bender, Daniel J. “Reflections of a Professional School Registrar.” College & University, vol. 88, no. 3, 2013, pp. 61-64.
Coffman, Lotus Delta. “The Registrar: A Profession.” Bulletin of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars (1926): 154-68. Rpt. in College & University, vol. 91, no. 2, 2016, pp. 31-36.
Mitchell, Jennevieve. “The American Registrar: A Report from the Field.” College & University, vol. 89, no. 2, 2013, pp. 45-55.
Munkwitz-Smith, Jeff Von. “90 Years Later: Reflections on The Registrar: A Profession.” College
& University, vol. 91, no. 2, 2016, pp. 37-40.
Pace, Harold L. “The Evolving Office of the Registrar.” College & University, vol. 86, no. 3, 2011, pp. 2-7.
Smith, Shawn C. “The Complex Origins of the Registrar.” College & University, vol. 87, no. 4, 2012, pp. 11-17.
Waters, Marlo J., and Len Hightower. “A Qualitative Exploration of Perspectives on the Management and Leadership Roles of the Registrar.” College & University, vol. 91, no. 2,
2016, pp. 20-30
Soraira Urquiza, MA has worked in higher education for 11 years. She is currently the Registrar and International Student Advisor for the Los Angeles College of Music in Pasadena, California. She is also a Chicana/o Studies instructor and has taught courses at East Los Angeles College and California State University, Northridge. An avid advocate for education and constant learner, she is beginning her Doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of Southern California this coming fall 2017. She has been a member of PACRAO since 2008 and has served on the executive board as Diversity Development Advocate and was the 2015 Local Arrangements Committee Chair. Soraira credits PACRAO for her professional growth as well as developing her passion higher education administration and the students it serves.