by Sarah Seigle, Academic Impressions
The transfer credit evaluation process is one that touches many different stakeholders. The registrar’s office is where the heart of the action happens, but the way credit is articulated has far-reaching implications for the admissions office, department chairs, and academic advisors as well. Because all of these entities have such a stake, it can be tricky for registrars to manage policy changes and gain the buy-in needed to streamline their transfer credit evaluation processes.
Two Success Stories at CSU
Kelley Brundage, associate registrar at Colorado State University, has worked in transfer credit evaluation for over 20 years and has led two major streamlining initiatives at CSU.
The first large-scale streamlining initiative occurred when Kelley was a new hire at the university. As she entered into her new leadership role as associate registrar, she was advised that the overall perception of the registrar’s office was, on the whole, a negative one: other Departments viewed her office as inflexible and unlikely to compromise, and as a result, the efficiency of the transfer credit evaluation process was suffering. Kelley immediately began taking steps to turn the perception of her office around and gain allies throughout the institution.
The second streamlining initiative that Kelley undertook was to implement a transfer credit equivalency database. This new technology was not only a significant monetary investment but also a large-scale process change in the way CSU performed its transfer credit evaluations, so its successful implementation required a great deal of buy-in from the various stakeholders involved.
Because this issue of securing buy-in for policy change resonates with so many, I sat down with Kelley the other day to see what other institutions might be able to learn from her approach.
The following are four critical pieces of advice she offered during our conversation.
1. Consult with your team to continuously re-examine your own transfer credit evaluation process
"Being in the industry for over 20 years and as the leader of the group, I know where the pressure points are. But when I meet with my team, it's a better conversation to have them respond to a question like, 'What's the thing that frustrates you the most?'"
After having this exact conversation with her team, Kelley is currently involved in conversations with her Vice Provost about changing the transfer credit evaluation policy for students seeking their second Bachelor's. "At the prompting of my staff, I requested some information from Institutional Research on how many of these students are actually completing their second Bachelor's vs. moving on to a Master's degree vs. not completing at all. The numbers are staggering when you look at the data--it's clear we need to do something differently."
The current policy at CSU states that every single course that each second Bachelor's degree student brings with them must be evaluated on the front end for transfer credit. Kelley and her team are hoping to pare down the number of courses they have to evaluate for these students to focus only on those that pertain to the second Major they have chosen.
2. Educate your fellow administrators about the scope of the work the registrar's office actually does
Kelley explains that for most administrators, the full scope of what the registrar's office is not always well understood. And in some cases, administrators aren't even aware that credit evaluation is housed within the registrar's office.
"My experience has been that, if the administrators haven't encountered that component of it before, they don't necessarily know the full volume of what it is you're doing. And especially what you're trying to do to maintain the academic integrity. We used to ask, 'What are the top five things you think of when I say registrar's office?' After hearing their response, inevitably, we can fill in the blanks with about 35 more things that we really do."
Given this lack of understanding, it is necessary to educate your administrative stakeholders--in a diplomatic way--about what your role and your intentions in conducting transfer credit evaluation really are.
Which leads us to Kelley's next point:
3. Approach the academic side of the house in a different way
When Kelley first started at CSU, she tells me that the registrar's office was not seen in the most positive of lights, so she set about turning her "opponents" on the academic side of the house into stakeholders by clarifying her office's intentions and involving them more meaningfully in the transfer credit evaluation process.
"I had to kind of sell it in a different way. I would say to them, 'We're reaching out to you because you are the academic entity. We need you and your guidance to make sure we're interpreting these policies fairly, equally, and correctly for students. So if we were looking at streamlining a certain aspect of what we were doing, we'd say 'Hey, here's our current business practice. Here's where we see the flaw--what do you think?'"
In the beginning, Kelley says, it was a lot of conversation. But persistence in doing those little things -- like coming to the academic side of the house and asking for assistance in policy interpretation -- really paid off for Kelley and her team.
"That really opened the door for us. We now have a monthly meeting with that part of the office, which, in our case as a registrar's office, is extremely important, because we essentially enforce any of the academic policies they come up with. Now, a few years later, we're in a good rhythm. They know we're not just going to take something and interpret it ourselves; we're really going to come to them and ask for guidance, so they understand our intentions better and feel involved as stakeholders in the process."
4. Send periodic, data-driven updates to your stakeholders
Throughout our conversation, Kelley emphasizes and re-emphasizes the importance of collecting good data and analyzing it on a regular basis. "Run the data and utilize whatever resources you have to pump out data," she advises. "Data goes a long way on the academic side—if you can show the patterns or issues you’re seeing using numbers and data, it really helps solidify whatever conversation you’re having."
To start out, Kelley recommends sending periodic, data-driven updates on what is going on within your office to the different departments you are trying to build relationships with.
These updates should be sent via email, and can take the form of 'FYIs': "They may not pay much attention to what you’re showing them at first, but over time they begin to realize that your office can pump out some pretty significant data and that you’re important to the conversation when it comes to transfer credit evaluation."
Kelley Brundage shares in-depth case studies and practical strategies on this issue in this recorded webcast from Academic Impressions: Gaining Institutional Buy-In for a Streamlined Transfer Credit Evaluation Process.