The Regulatory Triad and United States Higher Education

The Regulatory Triad and United States Higher Education

Marc B. Booker


U.S. higher education has a design that is unique in the world, and a primary reason for this unique design is the mixture of governmental and non-governmental agencies providing oversight that form the regulatory triad.  The so-called “regulatory triad” in U.S. higher education consists of oversight by accrediting agencies, state governments, and the federal government (Field, 2013),  As higher education professionals, a review of the historical development of the triad within U.S. higher education, the factors that have led to the creation of the regulatory triad, the role the regulatory triad currently plays in U.S. higher education, and current ways the triad affects U.S. higher education today is helpful in understanding the influence of the triad on our daily jobs and why we are required to balance competing priorities based on the relationship among these three entities.  This brief review provides awareness on how the triad has evolved and changed through the years of development in U.S. higher education to meet the needs of the public, and how the triad has been a driver in the evolution on how colleges and schools conduct themselves and operate, to provide clarity on the complex environment we operate in and why we carry out our roles in the manner which we do.


The Regulatory Triad and United States Higher Education

United States (U.S) higher education stands unique among the world for its size and structure in order to meet the diverse needs of its students and constituents (Eckel and King, 2011).  In some respects, U.S. higher education has stood as a model for other countries to emulate when tackling the challenges of their own higher education systems (Eckel and King, 2011).  Although U.S. higher education is not without its flaws, one of the hallmarks of U.S. higher education is its system of quality assurance through multiple regulatory bodies.  The so-called “regulatory triad” in U.S. higher education consists of oversight by accrediting agencies, state governments, and the federal government (Field, 2013), all holding different roles in the institutional oversight process.  The regulatory triad as it consists today has emerged over the centuries of development and evolution in U.S. higher education and has had an influence on the philosophical, political, and financial design of higher education in the U.S.  To investigate the influence of the regulatory triad on the infrastructure of U.S. higher education it is helpful to review the historical development of the triad within U.S. higher education, the factors that have led to the creation of the regulatory triad, the role the regulatory triad currently plays in U.S. higher education, and current ways the triad affects U.S. higher education today.

Historical Development of U.S. Higher Education and the Regulatory Triad

The roles that the federal government, state governments, and accrediting agencies play in U.S. higher education are still evolving and have been partially defined by the historical development of the United States.  Geiger (2011) indicates that there have been approximately ten generations in the development of United States higher education.  During these generations of development the basic roles for each part of the regulatory triad were defined, and, in the case of accreditation, a generational need defined the creation of it.  Although each generation has influenced the regulatory triad in some manner, for the purposes of this investigation a historical review of a few of the most salient time periods that have affected the development of the regulatory triad will be reviewed.

Colonial Higher Education Period (1636-1783) 

            When conducting a review of higher education in America, a good starting point is during the colonial period.  The first colleges in America were religious-affiliated chartered institutions receiving subsidies that consisted of some of the well-known Ivy League institutions such as Harvard and Yale (Johnson, Musial, Hall & Gollnick, 2011).  As the colonies expanded, so did the number of institutions with the creation of more private institutions that would become known as Princeton, Columbia, Penn, and Brown among others (Geiger, 2011).

The colonial time period is relevant to the creation of the regulatory triad because although many of the colonial institutions were private, they were also subject to colonial intervention.  To establish an institution during colonial time, schools were required to obtain a charter, and the process of issuing charters was used to control the growth or expansion of institutions (Bennett, 2014).  Moreover, these colleges were eligible for subsidies, grants, or tax exemptions from their provincial governments (Bennett, 2014).  Even though these institutions were given academic autonomy to provide education consistent with their religious roots and operate on a private basis, a relationship was formed between the college and its respective colony, which required the institution to balance internal needs versus communal needs (Geiger, 2011).  As Bennett (2014) points out, the thought that colonial institutions were free from external influence of the government and were able to act as free-market entities prior to the revolution is a myth.

Post-Revolutionary War Period (1783-1812)

The post-Revolutionary War period in higher education is critical in the development of U.S. higher education as it largely defined the roles of the state and federal government.  When the Constitution was drafted in 1787 it did not define a direct responsibility for the oversight of education by the federal government (Gladieux, Hauptman and Knapp, 2010).  Perhaps due to the pre-existing provincial support system that sponsored and assisted the colonial institutions, and likely as an avenue to ensure the sovereign rights of the newly formed states, the control for educational laws and institutional approvals was left to the states, where it basically remains today (Gladieux, Hauptman and Knapp, 2010).  With this newly granted authority many states took it upon themselves to either alter the operating conditions for colleges within their jurisdictions or create new public institutions of instruction (Geiger, 2011).

The separation of roles between the federal government and state governments has greatly influenced the formation of higher education in the U.S.  Although the states were given a large portion of the responsibility for educating the nation, it is inaccurate to think the federal government has ever taken a hands-off approach.  Even in the early post-Revolutionary War period, the federal government was keenly aware of the importance of education and looked to provide support resources to inject life into specific educational initiatives without usurping the oversight of institutions maintained by state governments (Gladieux, Hauptman and Knapp, 2010).  Philosophically, this sentiment still exists today, but over time as more federal resources have been injected into higher education initiatives, the influence of the federal government has grown.



Antebellum and Postbellum Transformation (1812-1890)

            Over the next 80 years in U.S. higher education the role and place of the university continued to be in transition with questions asked about the private versus public nature of education and the role of education as a professional or industrial enterprise.  As the nation grew and expanded, so did the sentiment that education needed to be a lever to facilitate this growth through both agricultural and industrial means (Geiger, 2011).  As a direct result, a notable action taken by the federal government to spur the creation of new institutions occurred in the form of the Morrill Land Grant Act to advance the needs of a quickly growing nation that needed a more educated population (Gladieux, Hauptman and Knapp, 2010).  Although, the first Morrill Land Grant Act was slightly premature in its timing (Geiger, 2011), it demonstrated an important dynamic for how the federal government could wield its influence and resources to promote the growth of education within states while still not creating a national system.

The Birth of the Modern System (1890-1940)

               As the economic prowess of the nation boomed during the turn of the last century, so did the investment in education by the states (Goldin and Katz, 1999).  An educational landscape once dominated by private institutions started to see the rise of large public institutions of instruction and research universities (Goldin and Katz, 1999).  By nature of this growth and as a need to maintain quality and facilitate student mobility a need to standardize emerged (Geiger, 2011).  In response to the need to standardize, some staples found today in U.S. higher education, such as the Carnegie unit for credit and four-year degree design,  emerged during this time (Geiger, 2011), as well as something else uniquely American called accreditation.

Although loose associations of colleges and schools began to form prior to 1890, the role of accreditation as a peer-reviewed quality assurance system did not fully begin to be realized until after 1890 (El-Khawas, 2001).  As a response to an evolving nation with an increasingly transient population, these associations realized a need to ensure uniform standards existed in order to facilitate appropriate secondary instruction for admission purposes and prevent academic quality from suffering during a time of expansive growth (El-Khawas, 2001).  As an entity that existed outside of federal or state control these associations were free to foster the diversity of institutions and also establish standards that promoted academic autonomy, while also providing basic qualifications for standardization.  Over this time period, a quality assurance mechanism began to form, where each member could be counted upon to meet certain quantitative standards and, therefore, be considered a reputable institution if its graduates entered the professional field or went on to further studies.  As a more thoughtful nation began to emerge after World War I, accreditation began to evolve as well by looking at institutions qualitatively in determining if the school was meeting the holistic needs of its students, community, mission and stated purpose; and these qualitative characteristics remain hallmarks of the process today (El-Khawas, 2001).

Reaching Massification (1940-1975)

            As the world recovered from its Second World War, the U.S. higher education system had to adjust to changing socio-economic conditions and global needs.  Investment in education expanded greatly during this time from both a state and federal level.  Faced with millions of returning soldiers the federal government stepped in with the GI Bill, and as a result institutional enrollment increased at an unexpected exponential rate (Geiger, 2011). Moreover, with baby boomers filling classrooms for multiple generations, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opening up access for African American students, U.S. higher education was set to experience sustained enrollment growth for decades (Geiger, 2011).   

As a result of the enrollment boom, state investment in education increased leading to the rise of flagship public state institutions.  Bolstered by research grants flowing directly from the federal government to the institutions in order to maintain the United States’ position as a world leader (Gladieux, Hauptman and Knapp, 2010), these flagship public universities became more selective (Geiger, 2011). Consequently, faced with a continually rising student demand and capacity or selectivity issues at universities, the states began creating public community colleges to tackle vocational and broader educational needs (Geiger, 2011).  In the interim, accrediting agencies had to adapt their evaluation practices to follow suit with a focus on institutional quality and standardization as more institutions were created (El-Khawas, 2001), further entrenching their relationships with the state and federal government as the quality assurance mechanism for the burgeoning system.

Regulatory Evolution (1975- Current)

            The 1970s are a notable period in U.S. higher education as it reflects a shift in the role of the federal government in higher education, which defines many aspects of the regulatory triad as it exists today.  With the changes to the Higher Education Act occurring during the 1970s the federal government became entrenched in the oversight of higher education by increasing student aid programs and enhancing regulations associated with institutional participation in aid programs to provide better controls such as FERPA or Title IX (Geiger, 2011).  These changes began to drive new behaviors in institutions and the states as a result of these new revenue sources.  Institutions began to increase tuition and student fees to enhance education programs and were able to account for these costs on the basis of students having more access to assistance (Geiger, 2011).  Access to greater aid in the form of loans also allowed for private institutions to increase their presence, and as a corollary the states began a process of de-investment in higher education (Geiger, 2011).  The resulting shift in financial strategies caused by increased access to aid generated a greater reliance on federal aid programs and as a consequence increased the influence of the federal government on institutions (Geiger, 2011).

Accreditation’s role was also affected by these changes as accreditation became a critical component for institutional access to aid programs.  This aspect of the Higher Education Act became a major impetus to defining the points of the regulatory triad, as the conditions for an institution to be eligible to participle in federal aid programs are that the institution must be approved in the state which it operates and that the institution also be accredited by a body recognized by the federal government (El-Khawas, 2001).  The triangulation of these bodies has created the current environment that institutions must operate in and as a consequence has increased the regulatory scrutiny and amount of regulations institutions are subject to as these bodies attempt to work together to carry out their very different and distinct roles.

Roles and Responsibilities of the Regulatory Triad

            As indicated, the roles of the regulatory triad have evolved over the almost two-and-a-half centuries of U.S. higher education.  Although, from a high-level perspective the states, federal government, and accrediting agencies all still fill the obligations set forth as originally intended, these roles have changed and become more complex in the current environment.  To gain perspective on the how the regulatory triad influences U.S. higher education it is useful to clarify the current roles and responsibilities of each component of the triad.

State Roles and Responsibilities

            The most diverse component of the regulatory triad is the individual states.  Because each state is responsible for the execution and approval of educational programs and initiatives within its borders there are numerous variations and differences that exist state to state.  From a structural standpoint each state legislature has created at least one committee to handle decisions and recommendations on education matters (Fowler, 2013), and from there the names and players that handle the oversight, policy making, and institutional approvals differ state to state.  Although the exact names and exact responsibilities for higher education policy making and management differ state by state, each state does have a board, department, agency or other authorized entity to carry out the functions for higher education oversight.  Even with these differences it is best to sum up the role of the state to manage the approval of higher education institutions that operate within its borders, establish the rules and regulations that govern both public and private institutions as a condition to continue operating within these borders, create programs to support higher education initiatives, and allocate funding to be disbursed to institutions from public funds.

Because states levy policies for public and private institutions, state regulatory codes may create different bodies or codes to handle the oversight of each.  An example of this can be found in the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Act § 61.302 that defines an institution of higher education as a public entity and conversely defines private institutions as those that do not meet the definition of an institution of higher education as set forth in this code (Higher Education Coordinating Act, 2015).  A separation in state code between institution types is not uncommon and allows the state to create differing regulations to manage higher education entities within its borders.  Ultimately, states are the gatekeepers that permit institutions to conduct business within its jurisdiction, and states have the most control in determining if an institution can continue operating from a regulatory standpoint.



Accrediting Agency Roles and Responsibilities

            As previously presented accreditation began as a process to share best practices and create consistency between institutions, but accreditation has emerged to become the independent quality review process in U.S. higher education.  Accreditation today provides four main functions: to provide quality assurance, to act as one of the gatekeepers providing access to federal funding, to instill confidence by the pubic in the output of students from institutions, and to create a sense of reciprocity among institutions sharing students (Eaton, 2009).  Although accrediting agencies can accredit institutions or programs, it is the institutional accrediting bodies that make up the second leg of the regulatory triad because of their interplay with the federal government’s aid programs.  Accreditation holds a unique spot in global higher education as it is not a governmental entity and has long been considered part of the reason that U.S. higher education has grown to consist of a collection of very diverse and academically autonomous institutions (Eaton, 2009).

In the United States the two most prominent institutional accrediting bodies are separated into regional and national agencies.  Although not always true, regional bodies primarily accredit colleges and universities with a broad degree-granting educational focus, mostly private and non-profit institutions; whereas, national bodies accredit career, technical, and vocational institutions (Eaton, 2009).  Because of the differences in these bodies diversity exists among these agencies, but common threads emerge when looking at the goals of these agencies.  For example, the Higher Learning Commission’s guiding values place an emphasis on student learning and continuous improvement (Higher Learning Commission: 2016 Resource Guide, 2016), and in the WASC Senior Colleges and Universities Commission standards of accreditation a commitment to student learning and success and a commitment to quality and improvement exists (2013 Handbook of Accreditation, 2013).

Because accreditation provides an avenue to access additional funding sources and stands to serve as a seal of quality for an institution, it is something that higher education institutions take very seriously.  As a result, institutions have begun to invest funds in administrative staff to handle relationships with accrediting agencies and also work through continuous improvement matters that arise out of accreditation requirements.  The role accreditation has played in higher education has been somewhat fluid over the years depending on the needs of institutions, the government, or the public, but the role has become a constant  in the oversight for higher education institutions in the U.S.  (El-Khawas, 2001).

Federal Government Roles and Responsibilities

            Because the federal government is a singular entity it does not contain some of the challenges that exist because of the differences created by the diversity in the various state or accrediting agency rules and regulations.  However, this is not to indicate that the federal government’s role in higher education is not robust or complex.  Over the past 50 years the federal government has taken a much more active role in higher education mostly through the administration of funding support in order to increase student access or institutional research (Gladieux, Hauptman and Knapp, 2010).  It is through the lever of financial support that the federal government has broadened its influence on higher education, even though it is not granted direct controls over education for the country.

A complicated web has been woven by the federal government in order to exert its authority, and most often has come in the form of regulations by which institutions must abide by in order to gain access to funding.  Whether by universal regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act or by very specific education-centric regulations such as Title IX or FERPA, the federal government has created numerous codes which institutions must navigate in order to retain access to federal funding (Gladieux, Hauptman and Knapp, 2010).  To manage the expanse of regulations a central Department of Education was created, but this entity does not have oversight for all educational programs within the government (Gladieux, Hauptman and Knapp, 2010); as different government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security has oversight for the student exchange and visitor program, and the Department of Defense handles military student benefits.

With the implementation of the Higher Education Act (HEA) – and its subsequent reauthorizations – the regulatory triad emerged.  The HEA outlines in 34 C.F.R. § 600.4 (2016) the eligibility criteria that institutions must meet to participate in federal aid programs to include state authorization and institutional accreditation for federal purposes as  “reliable authorities regarding the quality of education or training offered by the institutions or programs they accredit” (34 C.F.R. § 602.1, 2016, p. 2).  It is through these codes that the triad becomes connected, and the current complex regulatory ecosystem is formed.

Effect of the Triad on Modern U.S. Higher Education

            Although the regulatory triad has been an important component of making U.S. higher education a world leader through the promotion of a diverse system with high-quality institutions; it has also affected how institutions operate within the triad and caused some complexities.  Two notable ways the triad has recently affected institutions is by creating an increasingly complex regulatory environment and altering how accrediting agencies carry out their functions.  Because of the influence of the triad on institutional funding systems, institutions are facing similar problems and are required to find answers to common challenges around ensuring student learning outcomes are met in an environment where fiduciary responsibility is becoming increasingly important (Eckel and King, 2011).

Complex Regulatory Environment

            With the rise of the triad, an increase in the amount of regulations an institution has to manage has occurred.  The current regulatory environment has become a talking point for institutions as a barrier to innovation.  As reported in a 2013 survey of college and university presidents by Inside Higher Ed, presidents do not see this trend letting up (Lederman and Jaschik, 2013).  With the tension that is created by the triad on institutions, some institutions have sought ways to decrease government and regulatory controls to increase institutional autonomy (Eckel and King, 2011), but because of the complex financial ecosystem within the current environment this is no easy task.  To its credit the federal government has recognized that the current environment is too complex and has held hearings in advance of modifying the HEA (Field, 2013), but a re-authorization of the HEA is yet to emerge.

Institutional expansion is often stifled by the amount of regulations with which an institution must work with as well.  Because each state has jurisdiction over education within its borders this means each state has the right to regulate the import and export of educational services (Lane, Kinser, and Knox, 2013).  In essence what is created is a web of laws and rules that an institution must manage if it wishes to offer instruction in a different jurisdiction from its home state, which by virtue of creating additional variables adds to institutional complexity.  Institutions found to be noncompliant of state regulations can be held liable for damages if offering services at an unapproved site, even if the institution has obtained appropriate approvals in their home state or jurisdiction (Lane, Kinser, and Knox, 2013).

As a consequence, institutions now devote greater resources to the creation of internal legal, compliance, and regulatory departments to manage the complexity of the triad.  Even though the U.S. system has been characterized by its desire for limited government controls, the influence of a heightened regulatory environment will not decrease as long as institutions continue to have a large dependency on federal aid programs (Mumper, Gladieux, King, and Corrigan, 2011).  As a result, schools will continue to try to meld the demands of the triad with their own institutional mission and goals, which will continue to create an inherit tension among these bodies.

Changes in the Role of Accrediting Agencies              

The newest leg of the triad has also been the entity that has experienced the most transformation over the last 30 years.  As discussed, accreditation began as an independent entity to create standardization and best-practice sharing among universities (El-Khawas, 2001; Hall, 2012).  However, what has emerged is a body that is now pressured to promote quality assurance and accountability across institutions and ensure consumer protections are in place (Eaton, 2010; El-Khawas, 2001; Hall, 2012).  Although accreditation is considered a non-governmental process, accreditation’s ties to higher education on a local and federal level have created some legal challenges to its role as a state-actor (Toma and Palm, 1999).  Many of these challenges have not held up in court, but legally what is important for accrediting agencies is that they follow their outlined criteria, rules, and standards for accreditation (Toma and Palm, 1999).

It is the criteria, rules, and standards for accreditation that have evolved recently which have affected colleges and universities.  Through the federal government’s call for accreditation to take a more direct stance on accountability and student protections it has created a change in the criterion used for accreditation.  For example, in 2012 the Higher Learning Commission created a set of Assumed Practices intended to be objective in nature that act as a standard framework for accountability for an institution (Higher Learning Commission, 2016).  This list of objective criteria acts almost like minimum standards for an institution and is a departure from the more collegial and subjective process that has largely defined accreditation.

Another example can be found in the shift of standards made by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) in 2001 when WASC updated its criteria for review.  With these changes WASC focused more on operational aspects of the institution and gave latitude to the institution to define what areas of performance the institution would showcase to demonstrate how the institution fulfills its institutional obligations and objectives (Ewell, 2011).  Part of this change required a transition to an evidence-based practice to hold institutions accountable, while also trying to maintain a process that respected the individuality of each institution (Ewell, 2011).  This shift in how accrediting agencies approach the accreditation process can cause complications for institutions as they adjust to new requirements and processes and attempt to build evidence or procedures to meet criteria for continued accreditation.


U.S. higher education has a design that is unique in the world, and a primary reason for this unique design is the mixture of governmental and non-governmental agencies providing oversight that form the regulatory triad.  The triad has evolved and changed through the years of development in U.S. higher education to meet the needs of the public and institutions, but has also been a driver in the evolution on how colleges and schools conduct themselves and operate.  Although the regulatory triad is not perfect, it has become an indelible part of the infrastructure of U.S. higher education that has allowed the flexibility for institutions to grow, diversify, and provide a comparatively high quality product to its constituents on a mass basis.


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Accidental Registrar: A Look Back


Even before my retirement a little over a year ago, I had been thinking of writing something about my fifteen years in the registrar’s office at Oregon State University. Many things came to mind as I neared my last day, but perhaps the most persistent thought was how accidental it had been that I ever became a registrar in the first place.

Prior to applying for the position of Special Programs Manager, I had limited interaction with registrar offices and had given approximately zero thought to ever working in one. I had a rudimentary idea of what registrars did, but I had no idea what one did to prepare to work in a registrar’s office. Had I known that the answer to that question is so far unanswered, I would have been a little more assured.

In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, roughly equivalent to the Iron Age in registrar geologic terms, I had registered as an undergraduate via the spectacle known as arena registration. To my bewildered undergraduate psyche, the process had the same easy-to-follow steps that exist in photosynthesis, calculus, international diplomacy, and literary criticism. Only with punch cards. Incredibly, though, it worked.

As a graduate student a decade later, I registered via telephone, roughly the Bronze Age in registrar office geologic terms; and as an adjunct instructor at university and community college, I discovered the registrar’s office was one of my best professional friends. It was vital in a mysterious and wonderful way, providing me with class lists at the beginning of the semester, and notifications of adds, drops, and withdrawals throughout the term. At the end of every semester, I supplied grades, first via Scantron sheets (another Iron Age feature), and then through the miracle of online grading (a true miracle if there ever was one). I could go to the registrar’s office for any question remotely connected to my class, from the start date of the term to the location of the parking lot nearest my classroom.

With such a minimal understanding and interaction with the form and function of a registrar’s office, the question why I applied to work in one seems reasonable. I have often asked myself that question, hoping that continued thought would produce an epiphany, and I could then assure myself that I knew what I was doing and what to expect when I applied at OSU. I am confident that I am closing in on the answer and will shortly be satisfied with the explanation. That, however, is still a work in progress. Though I am not yet certain of the reason(s) that prompted me to become a registrar, I can say without hesitation or qualification that I am glad I did.

Those who worked with me over the fifteen years at OSU may be surprised to hear that I claim to be happy with my decision. But my frustrations, complaints, protests, and temporary unhappiness from time-to-time pale in comparison to the great relationships I had with fabulous colleagues, the support and encouragement I received from the three university registrars I worked for, and the thousands of kindnesses from students, faculty and staff, and the unstinting wonders that I witnessed daily from co-workers in the office.  Each day was an adventure, or at the very least a potential adventure.

I knew from the first that I had a lot to learn, and often was in uncharted waters, particularly when I talked with students and listened to plights that were at odds with my own dull, normal undergraduate experience. In my first encounter trying to understand an account of a particular difficulty (the details of which are lost to me now), I can remember only looking blankly at the student and asking, with what I hoped was a sympathetic tone, “Why did you do that?” Somehow, we arrived at a plan that addressed the difficulty, with some pain to everyone involved, probably. Other meetings with students dealt with a wide range of traumas: some were relatively benign issues, such as missed drop deadlines; others were issues that involved difficult decisions by the students to withdraw from the term, or withdraw from a course, possibly impacting degree progress. In time, I became more comfortable with the meetings, and more assured of how to deal with the issues. At one point, I discovered that for all but the most traumatic instances, and in some cases even for those, I had progressed from asking “Why did you do that?” to stating, usually with confidence, “I think I have a form for that.”

I was ecstatic with some of those adventures, wary and unsure of others, and frustrated and angry at a small number. Unfortunately, the small number of frustrations loomed large in the moment; fortunately, they have diminished over time, leaving me with an appreciation for the good fortune and opportunity I had over those years.

Looking back at a career that I didn’t consciously prepare for, or even know existed until I was in it, is a fascinating remembrance, and after retirement, I hope somewhat explainable. Working with faculty members on scheduling, room assignments, and final exam scheduling helped me understand the day-to day challenges that faculty and departments faced, and helped them understand that scheduling for the entire university is a master puzzle that involves consideration of every college and department across the university. Helping students understand the academic regulations and the purpose behind them, and in particular notions such as academic residency, repeat rules, truncated (rather than rounded) GPA, degree audits, FERPA, academic suspension and why it was never because of one class or one teacher, helped me to understand those regulations and our processes, and helped students, I think, to take a careful view of their role in their education. Participating in and contributing to OSU commencement – a complex, interconnected, and dynamic process that is a time of joy, celebration, and sometimes frustration – reinforced why it was great to work in the registrar’s office. Finally, I hope that my work and conversations with students, faculty, and parents helped them understand that I had no interest, ever or in any way, of ruining their lives.

Those remembrances, challenges, frustrations, and successes are what I had in mind when I proposed to write about my experiences and observations, titled The Accidental Registrar, to the editors of the PACRAO Review.

An explanation of how I found myself in the OSU Registrar’s Office, and how I faced  the issues and challenges of the jobs I held, how I was helped, and why I didn’t run away, is what I am interested in relating. If it makes sense to readers, then I am probably confused and have remembered events selectively; if it seems to be a chronicle of how miraculous it is that my career as a registrar lasted as long as it did, then I have told the true story.


Tom Watts worked in the Office of the Registrar at Oregon State University from 2001 to 2016. He began as Special Programs Manager, and worked also as Assistant and Associate Registrar, before his retirement in 2016. He lives in Seattle, where he cheers for his wife’s bagpiping endeavors, roots for the Mariners, and takes instructions cheerfully from his granddaughters.

PACRAO Review October 2017 Edition

Volume 8 • Number 1 • October 2017

Download the entire issue: PACRAO Review October 2017

Leadership & Management Styles

-Arturo Torres, University of Nevada Las Vegas

Over the course of centuries much has been written and discussed regarding what makes a great leader. Many books have been written and many studies conducted. Look up the word “leader” or “leadership” and very simple meanings of the words can be found. As many can attest, leadership is not an easy skill to master. In my experience leaders can only be effective through development of their leadership skills and an understanding of what true leadership is.

What is life like after retirement?

-Christine Kerlin, AACRAO

When asked what life is like after retirement, my response could take several hours. I won’t do that to you, but I will offer some brief comments.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

-Soraira Urquiza, Los Angeles College of Music

“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!).

Creating FERPA Training That is Fun, Educational, Responsive, Participatory, Assessable

-Barry K. Allred, Jearlene Leishman, and Brian Chantry; Brigham Young University

While not all training programs need to look the same, the approach makes a difference in the learning process. This article discusses how Brigham Young University sought to increase FERPA-compliance and awareness by leveraging key principles.

Leadership & Management Styles


Over the course of centuries much has been written and discussed regarding what makes a great leader. Many books have been written and many studies conducted. Look up the word “leader” or “leadership” and very simple meanings of the words can be found. As many can attest, leadership is not an easy skill to master. In my experience leaders can only be effective through development of their leadership skills and an understanding of what true leadership is. Being a leader is more than instructing people what to do and how to do it. Leadership is about building relationships, making connections, collaboration/partnerships, motivating and mentoring. Take a minute and think about your past and current leaders: What kind of leader are they? It has been my experience that good leaders know that although they are the “leader” the “one in charge,” it is the staff/team that will contribute significantly in understanding problems, finding practical solutions and successful implementations. As instructed in texts such as Organizational Behavior by Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn (2007) leaders set the goals, foster an environment of innovative solutions along with collaboration and teamwork within their organization. Here is something to ponder as written by Sergiovanni, Thomas J (2007) Rethinking Leadership, A Collection of Articles: A leader in your organization which you personally admire because of their ability to handle people but you do not agree with the person’s goals. If you compare to a lender whom you do not like but whose ideas make a great deal of sense, which one of the two leaders would you be more willing to follow? Goal setting, planning, commitment and implementation are key factors to effective leadership. Elements found in effective leadership systems in any organization are leaders, followers, ideas and action (Sergiovanni, Thomas J 2007).

Management styles are another critical theory that must be understood and fine-tuned depending on factors such as office culture and employees capabilities (Klingner, Nalbandian 2003). In many situations of change, I have found from experience that an effective strategy to deploy is an authoritative management style with the expectation that it moves to a coaching and mentoring management style. Establishing clear objectives for all subordinates, setting obtainable goals, providing motivation for staff members to achieve their objectives and goals, and holding those accountable for their successes and shortcomings are key factors to a successful implementation and ongoing practice of authoritative management.

A good boss is strong, decisive, and firm but fair. He is protective, generous and indulgent to loyal subordinates (Handy, 1985).

In many case studies highlighted in Organizational Communication, Approaches and Processes, (Miller 2009), employee’s job satisfaction can depend upon the management style of their leader. An effective leader should select an appropriate management style that will coincide with the university culture and employee readiness to advance. Authoritative management is an opportunity to provide long term vision and direction to your subordinates. Additionally, clarifying with your staff the overarching mission of your department or university and identifying how their contributions add to the mission can be invaluable and motivating for staff to hear and understand. For authoritative management to be effective the leader must set standards, give direction, have the ability to persuade and provide feedback on task and work performance.

Managing change to ensure success requires use of a wide range of strategies, as I have found during my long customer service management career. Strategies can include winning staff support by allowing bottom up advice on appropriate decision making and reporting structures and ongoing managing and feedback of technology and monitoring its effectiveness within your department. Additionally, show appreciation to your staff by including some sort of reward system and/or monthly activities for engagement and team building. Ideas for these can range from staff retreats to having fun on a game day, or a contest for a paid lunch outside the office. These are just a few ideas that can help support a positive and effective workplace atmosphere.

Having a plan and setting clear attainable goals, getting your team engaged and involved will make many challenges more attainable. Identify your areas of responsibility and clearly define staff roles and desired outcomes. How can your responsibilities help the mission of your department or university? Utilize the strengths of your team. Get to know your staff and their capabilities and overall desires. Start to involve your staff in decisions and keep them informed of larger campus initiatives. Goals are important, but they don’t need to be groundbreaking. Be clear about what you want to do and why you want to do it. Understand that employees look to you for guidance and strength. Lead by example. A busy leader must also bolster enthusiasm and a positive work environment. A leader looks for opportunities to motivate and mentor staff (Schermerhorn, Hunt, & Osborn 2007).

You must identify what you hope to achieve within the organization. Are you looking at managing positions and therefore managing people’s day to day activities, or are you focused on achieving the organization’s mission? Provide guidance but let your staff take ownership of their processes. Let them be involved and responsible in identifying new ideas or solutions. Ultimately, you need to have your employees focus on the overarching mission of your organization. You must look at your employees as assets and not as positions to manage (Klingner & Nalbandian 2003).

It is becoming common practice to hear terms such as “managing teams” as opposed to terms such as “micromanaging” or dividing duties and responsibilities to individuals. Leaders set the tone for high expectations. Leaders create enthusiasm within their unit and department as a whole, and they establish credibility by successfully executing a set of directives that should be planned and implemented effectively and with optimal timing. The manager’s focus should be on the group as well as the member. Interpersonal skills now become critical in team management (Sergiovanni, 2007).

Studies have shown that shortages in competencies and/or technical skills in employees will result in continuous training needs in organizations. Current demographics of the workforce, along with an increase demand for professional and technical skills, suggest major gaps in employee skill sets (Sergiovanni, 2007). The American Society for Training and Development has reported that the average American company is spending more per employee and providing more internal trainings than ever before. Training, as a whole, must be a part of the department or university strategic planning. Cross training within your department has now become more important than ever before. This provides opportunities for new perspectives and review of established processes to see improvements are possible with or without the use of new technology.

Meet with your staff on a regular basis, as a group, and individually, to discuss office standards, protocol, daily expectations, reporting structure, to set up future team meetings, and to explain the need for cross training within the department. Establish an office mission statement, discuss ongoing expectations, and set up weekly or biweekly 1:1s with staff. Work with your team to create process flowcharts and an understanding of your processes. Find areas of overlap or opportunities to improve processes. Create a production calendar with staff to include all major projects, goals and/or deadlines and activities. Review current policy and procedures with staff to ensure consistency and understanding across your department. Understand what relationships need to be established or fostered throughout the campus community, specifically for your areas of responsibility. Establish individual goals for yourself and staff, add reasons why goals will be useful, include specific actions that will be taken to help achieve the goals, and include a date of goal completion. Follow up with staff on goal setting and expectations on a regular basis.

Accept it or not, everything you do as a manager contributes to other’s perception of you as a professional. Strive to make these perceptions positive. I have learned that while it is important to be collegial with subordinates, you are ultimately the boss and should not engage in unnecessary activities or engage in gossip with your staff. I also learned the importance of communicating your frustrations and disappointments directly with your staff, colleagues, and superiors, rather than searching for a way to avoid the conversation or conflict.

When given the opportunity to be a great leader you will lead your unit with the experience and lessons you have learned at the forefront of your mind. In addition, you should rely on the other members of your leadership team for guidance and mentorship on how to be an effective leader. One lesson I have always practiced throughout my professional career is this: Don’t be afraid to try and to make a mistake, but never make the same mistake twice.

Handy, Charles B (1985). Understanding Organizations: Penguin

Sergiovanni, Thomas (2007). Rethinking Leadership, A Collection Of Articles: CA Crown Press

Klingner, Donald & Nalbandian, John (2003). Public Personnel Management, Context and Strategies. New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Miller, Katherine (2009). Organizational Communication, Approaches and Processes: Wadsworth Cengage Learning

Schermerhorn, John, Hunt, James, Osborn, Richard (2007). Organizational Behavior: John Wiley & Sons, Inc


Arturo Torres, MA, UNLV Assistant Registrar. With over 12 years of experience in the Registrar and Admission offices in higher education, Arturo brings administrative and operational experience and a positive “Can Do” attitude that drives innovation, solutions and morale. Arturo received his Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration, Law Enforcement from Nevada State College in 2013 and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, Non Profit Management from the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2015. Combining his work experience along with his expertise in public administration, Arturo aims to continually move student support on college and university campuses to be more innovative, efficient and community centered (virtual/physical). Arturo has grown, learned and has had effective, innovative, and interesting ideas at PACRAO which has help him create and implement successful strategic plans.


What is life like after retirement?


When asked what life is like after retirement, my response could take several hours. I won’t do that to you, but I will offer some brief comments.

I was fortunate to work in several institutions, serve on many committees and boards, organize conferences, publish articles, travel, teach, and share experiences with many wonderful colleagues and friends. The diversity of those experiences is the largest factor contributing to the satisfaction I feel with my professional life. Not everything was perfect, I admit. I made mistakes, but for the most part I think learned from them. My colleagues are the best judge of that.

I emphasize “diversity” of experience because the willingness to learn new skills and engage in new projects leads to new opportunities, and that is what makes for a lively career. It takes energy and time to go out of the box of your job description. To have any sort of life balance you need to be really organized and purposeful about it. I was fortunate to be in environments where it was OK to do that. Or maybe I just made it OK; not sure. In any case, I made a personal decision to get involved with professional organizations and found an added community of colleagues who contributed greatly to my growth.

That brings me to now. Because of my involvement in PACRAO and AACRAO, and the progression of my career, I was connected with folks who were brave enough to ask me to join AACRAO Consulting. Yes, that included Bob Bontrager. I worked on several consulting contracts around North America before retiring, and continue to do so now, on a part-time basis, as well as facilitate an online AACRAO class. I am glad to be a part of AACRAO Consulting. I continue to serve our higher education community and I continue to learn as I visit a wide variety of colleges and universities. (Go to AACRAO’s website and check it out. )

Some folks wonder why a person would want to continue working after retirement from “the day job”. I know quite a few folks who do, in one way or another. Some of my colleagues do stints as interim directors or deans or VPs. Some set up their own consulting businesses. Others do volunteer work related to educational services. My sense is that we feel that we still have knowledge and skills to offer and are not quite willing to let that go dormant….yet.

So, with consulting, travel to a variety of places on our planet, time with family and friends, and volunteer work, I am pretty well occupied. I will end with a thank you to mentors who supported me: Richard Riehl, Arnaldo Rodriguez, Bill Lindemann, Rich Haldi, Charlie Earl, and colleagues too numerous to name from AACRAO and PACRAO – but I think they know who they are. I urge you, PACRAO members, to expand, learn and contribute even beyond your job description. When your turn comes to retire, you will feel good about it, and ready for some new adventures.

Christine Kerlin
Senior Consultant, AACRAO


During Dr. Christine Kerlin’s accomplished career, she has established herself as a nationally recognized leader and expert in the field of enrollment management within the community college system. As such, she has a wealth of knowledge and experience in strategic planning, outreach and recruitment strategies, admission and registration processes, articulation practices and inter-institutional partnerships, credential evaluation, international admission and advising, and student services. She also has authored chapters in a variety of AACRAO publications and continues to present regularly at national and regional conferences.
She was formerly the Vice President for the University Center and Strategic Planning at Everett Community College. Preceding her time at Everett Community College, Dr. Kerlin was the Director of Admissions and Records at Central Oregon Community College, as well as the Director of Admissions at The Evergreen State College. She calls on her first-hand experiences at these institutions of higher learning as an AACRAO Senior Consultant.