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Emergency Management
4/18/2016 12:00 AM

In the winter of 2013, Oregon State University experienced a major snowstorm at the beginning of finals week, closing campus for two days.

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — In the winter of 2013, Oregon State University experienced a major snowstorm at the beginning of finals week, closing campus for two days. A total of 700 finals had to be rescheduled; five days of finals had to be compressed into three, and 18,000 students were impacted directly by the rescheduling. The Registrar’s Office was given 48 hours to reschedule all finals, a process that usually takes more than two weeks. Cindy Lehto, the master scheduler at OSU, shared lessons learned during the Pacific Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers annual conference for this final exam scheduling emergency and how the emergency impacted OSU’s crisis playbook going forward. “We had to really rethink how we did things, how we didn’t plan for things,” Lehto said.

Campus officials were aware of the possibility of a rescheduling crisis in the week leading up to finals, as personnel anxiously tracked the progress of the impending storm. The Saturday before finals, the provost contacted the registrar to come up with emergency scenarios in the event that finals would have to be rescheduled. Lehto and her team needed to get buy-in and support from the campus staff in a very short time period as well as create a comprehensive plan to provide multiple scenarios for rescheduling options.

  • Look at all possible plans. Lehto and her team had to determine all the different possibilities that could arise if the institution were closed during the storm. Scenarios brainstormed included canceling the finals and rescheduling finals for the beginning of the next semester; conducting finals online; and conducting finals into what would have been the first week of winter break. “Everything that was best for the Registrar’s Office was the worst for students,” Lehto said.
  • Don’t panic. Figure out who are the key players and determine how to get them where they need to be. For Lehto, this included figuring out which faculty members would be most affected by the timetable of the storm and which faculty members or administrative staff members might be available to help proctor exams. Lehto’s office even looked for alternative solutions to proctor exams, reaching out to alumni, media services and conference specialists to help provide staff and support to meet student needs. Lehto advised breaking tasks up by skill-set strengths and looking for help in unexpected places — for example, reaching out to the grounds crew to help proctor exams or cover tasks that would not normally be expected.
  • Create a manageable framework. Lehto and her team broke up each day of finals into two-hour increments. Lehto was easily able to identify those time blocks that had the biggest scheduling conflicts and those with the most availability, which helped her manage rescheduling of finals when five days had to be compressed into three.
  • Communicate the details. One of the most important components to rescheduling final exams was communicating the details in a timely and consistent manner to students. Lehto and her team promised students that the schedule for finals would be up on the OSU website by 10 p.m. However, Lehto acknowledges that her team, at the time, had no comprehensive plan for communicating schedule changes to students. In retrospect, she suggested using learning management systems like Blackboard or Canvas and listservs to ensure that all students receive timely updates of final scheduling changes.
  • Expect the unexpected. After Monday’s exams had to be rescheduled, Lehto and her team faced further setbacks. The campus was also closed on Tuesday of finals week. Plus, OSU’s largest auditorium and seven other classrooms were unusable because windows in the building had been left open and the rooms were snowed in. Lehto and her team thought outside the box and created alternate testing locations by using basketball courts, the club-level football arena spaces, and rented tables and chairs to create usable testing centers. Lehto found staff to proctor exams for 10 hours over two days in these large spaces. Often, multiple final exams were administered at the same time. “Sometimes your biggest spaces are not going to be classrooms,” Lehto said.
  • Be prepared to deal with parents. After the rescheduled finals, Lehto heard from several parents and others who were not happy with how finals were rescheduled. “Those people who weren’t happy mostly just needed an opportunity to vent,” Lehto said, adding that explaining why OSU officials made the choices they did in the moment went a long way toward addressing the problem. You can’t worry about making everyone happy, Lehto concluded. Instead, you must find the best solution for the majority of your students and staff.
Athletics
3/18/2016 12:00 AM

If your institution serves an athletic population, you’re probably familiar with the unique enrollment and certifying challenges that accompany serving student-athletes.

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — If your institution serves an athletic population, you’re probably familiar with the unique enrollment and certifying challenges that accompany serving student-athletes. Even if your office is not directly involved in athletic certification on campus, registrars often play a crucial role in the success of a student-athlete, from ensuring eligibility, both before and after graduation, to monitoring transcripts during and before seasons to ensure that a student-athlete is certified to play. Student-athletes often require more attention from your office than other students. In a session at the recent Pacific Association of Registrars and Admissions Officers annual conference, Biljana Jovanovska, assistant registrar for athletic compliance and enrollment at the University of Idaho, laid out best practices for successfully serving student-athletes as they enroll at your institution and through certification for eligibility.

Recruitment best practices

“All the success and failure [of a student-athlete on campus] starts with recruitment,” Jovanovska said, adding that the groundwork for the success of a collegiate student-athlete actually begins with the foundation laid in high school. Jovanovska advised reaching out to high school counselors and advising them of the rules for contact with recruiting officials from universities. You can also outfit them with tools to advise student-athletes of the academic expectations facing them at universities and for admission. Jovanovska noted that there can occasionally be a gap between a campus coach’s desire to bring a terrific student-athlete to campus and the student’s ability to meet admission requirements. “Coaches can be tough,” Jovanovska said, adding that there are circumstances where a coach is so excited about a potential recruit that he could potentially make promises that are difficult for the university to keep.

Jovanovska shared best practices for dealing smoothly with recruits and coaching staff on campus:

  • Monitor eligibility through use of unofficial evaluations, transcripts and projection of credentials. Jovanovska pointed out that the use of unofficial transcripts, which can lead to an unofficial admissions evaluation for coaches and students, has helped the admissions staff create a projection of whether the student might be a good fit for the university. Finding those students who might not pass admissions requirements early can help adjust the expectations of both the coach and the student, or the applicant may be able to remedy deficiencies.
  • Oversee paperwork. Part of the complication for certifying student-athletes on campus is that not only do admissions requirements have to be met, but also student-athlete medical paperwork must be monitored for National Collegiate Athletic Association certification. “Students can’t even practice without medical paperwork,” Jovanovska said.
  • Appoint single contact point. Designate a single point of contact for the student-athlete on campus, and make sure that all messaging to the student comes directly from this point of contact. Creating one point of contact helps to resolve different messages students might be getting from multiple points, like coaches, other admissions officers, and their own high school advisors. Jovanovska advised sending compliance officers files for all potential recruits and not just those recruits that are the most desired by athletics coaches or most likely to attend your institution. That way, compliance officers are not blindsided by any last-minute recruits.
  • Set good boundaries. In tandem with the rule of setting a single point of contact, registrars should not reach out to students personally — unless they are the designated NCAA compliance officer — even though it might seem to be easier in the moment. Setting up a relationship where the student’s point of reference and contact is the registrar will prove difficult to navigate in the long term. Having a compliance officer, coach and registrar as all potential touch points for the student-athlete becomes confusing and creates confusion among roles. Registrars should also set boundaries with coaches. Jovanovska encouraged registrars to speak to coaches only through compliance contact points, particularly in the case of final decisions for academic admittance eligibility.

Clarity of communicating expectations key for student success

One pain point for certifying a potential student-athlete as a student-athlete on your campus is that two processes must take place simultaneously: certifying the checklist of items required by the NCAA for a student to be eligible and clearing the items for the admission process at your institution. This process is extremely redundant and often involves students submitting the same information twice, Jovanovska said. “Once they [prospective student-athletes] submit everything to the NCAA, they think they’re done,” Jovanovska said. Part of the certifying process involves raising student awareness that to be admitted to the institution and be eligible to play, prospective student-athletes need to complete both checklists. Jovanovska offered some guidelines for ways this can be done efficiently by registrars and certifying officials:

  • Explain clear due dates for both processes.
  • Communicate to students the different checklists with a packet of information, condensed to one page for each process and with clear visual checkpoints.
  • Reach out to high school advisors. If possible, host sessions for prospective student-athletes, counselors and parents to educate them on the most recent rules and requirements set by the NCAA and your institution.
  • Proactively track student-athletes to ensure they are meeting requirements.

Although this certification process is typically smooth for true freshmen (those students without any restrictions or previous college credit units), registrars need to be aware of the complications that can arise when students transfer credits from another institution, Jovanovska said. Such complications include determining what level of eligibility these students qualify for through the NCAA.

Differentiate between institutional, conference and NCAA regulations

Another complication to certifying and admitting student-athletes to your institution is that student-athletes must clear three levels of eligibility and regulations: NCAA regulations, conference-specific requirements and your institutional expectations. Making sure that your office staff and your prospective student-athletes are aware of the differences and specificities in all three is key to ensuring student-athlete success on your campus. NCAA regulations are typically the bare minimum that students must meet; your institution can have stricter requirements for student-athletes, Jovanovska said. “You can’t have special treatment for your student-athletes, but you can expect a higher standard from them,” Jovanovska said, adding that these expectations can range from academic standing to community presence.

Protect student privacy while collaborating across departments

Another best practice for ensuring student-athlete success is to work to set up strong relationships between offices within your institution, Jovanovska said. For example, the registrar’s office, admissions office and compliance officers should work together. For the admissions office, this means that admissions staff should know early on which students are athletes so that their applications can be processed faster and so that they can be certified in time for early practices. One common pitfall with interdepartmental collaboration is ensuring that student records remain secure and protected, Jovanovska said. That can mean using only secured shared drives on university systems instead of cloud-based software like Google Docs, no saving on desktops, and frequent password changes.

Guiding student-athletes to a successful completion

Although student advisors are not part of the certifying process, they play an integral part in keeping students eligible, Jovanovska said. Work with student advisors to help them better understand the components of academic eligibility for student-athletes. “You need to know how to calculate for eligibility to advise for eligibility,” Jovanovska said, adding that advisors need the tools to speak the same language to benefit student-athletes. Since student-athletes are not required to declare a final choice of major until their fifth semester, advisors are able to help them explore their strengths. Jovanovska also recommended having advisors look at the full profiles of transfer students to see what requirements students might have already met since repeating a course that’s already been passed, or a requirement that’s already been fulfilled, can negatively affect a student-athlete’s eligibility. Jovanovska also advised holding educational sessions with major departments on campus since faculty and staff members may not be aware of NCAA regulations for academic eligibility.

Veterans
2/18/2016 12:00 AM

Stay on top of these legislative updates to make sure that your campus is serving student-veterans effectively while avoiding potentially costly fines or audits.

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — In a session at the recent Pacific Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers annual conference, Chryssa Jones, National Association of Veterans’ Program Administrators public relations chair for the University of California, Riverside, shared recent updates to legislation affecting student-veterans on college and university campuses. Stay on top of these legislative updates to make sure that your campus is serving student-veterans effectively while avoiding potentially costly fines or audits.

Be prepared to waive fees for nonresident student-veterans

Recent updates to Section 702 of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which officially went into effect on July 1, 2015, include waiving nonresidency tuition and fee requirements for student-veterans and their dependents. Institutions of higher education found to be charging nonresidence tuition and fees to eligible students are liable to lose their campuswide veteran benefits. Jones went on to elaborate about a campus’s responsibilities under this rule. Eligible students are students who:

  • Must be in receipt of VA Chapter 30 or 33 benefits post–July 1, 2015.
  • Must be separated from active duty no more than three years prior to application term or July 1, 2015 — whichever is later.
  • Must be using benefits under Ch. 30 or 33, not be residents of the state, and meet the requirements outlined above.

Jones specified that granting students resident-rate tuition does not establish residency. Campuses are allowed to extend the above guidelines beyond the law (for example, extending resident tuition and fees to student-veterans who served more than three years ago), but if a student does meet the guidelines for being charged residency tuition and is not, then institutions must indicate and document why that choice has been made and have that justification on file in case of audit. “Best practices are to do registration first and then follow VACA [guidelines],” Jones said, advising institutions that it’s best to enroll students and then determine which ones don’t meet the residency tuition qualifications.

Mitigating circumstances affect student enrollment, campus reporting policies

Jones delivered news regarding how legislative changes will affect campus reporting of students who invoke “mitigating circumstances” for withdrawing from a course or enrollment. The mitigating circumstances program has been around since 2009, Jones said. Mitigating circumstances are circumstances beyond the control of the student and that prevent the student from continuing in his courses or on campus. Institutions are no longer required to report to the VA if they have documentation of mitigating circumstances affecting nonpunitive grades for student-veterans and should only report mitigating circumstances if the official reason is on file.

The notation of “mitigating circumstances” on a transcript can also affect the amount of debt a student accrues during a semester. Starting November 1, 2015, if a student-veteran faces circumstances where she must drop the course midway through the semester and the institution does not apply mitigating circumstances to her transcript, the VA is liable to charge a student-veteran for the entire semester and not just the portion of the semester that she attended courses. Jones noted that this does not necessarily affect a student’s grade but only her student debt. Although the institution is not responsible for the student debt, the documentation is important in case of institutionwide audit (although Jones let participants know that the VA would also be holding a file on the student’s mitigating circumstances grades and debt accrual). Jones also let participants know the mitigating circumstances can be applied retroactively, as long as a student’s last day of attendance date can be determined. “I do believe in talking to students before [they drop a class] so they can be aware of all ramifications, including financial [they might face],” Jones said.

Updates to guidelines for reasonable efforts to obtain transcripts

Determining credit for student-veterans based on prior-year transcripts is notoriously difficult, with military credit, multitudes of online and brick campuses to contend with and military honors to determine. Jones gave instructions for registrars to review all prior transcripts before students attend an institution and to come up with self-imposed guidelines for articulating credit on campus and noted institutions may not certify a student beyond two terms without all transcripts reviewed. The school certifying officer must document all transcripts received; however, students (and institutions) are only required to make a reasonable effort to obtain transcripts. “Before, campuses could review case by case, but now it’s become clear: if a student makes a reasonable attempt [to obtain transcripts] and can’t obtain [transcripts], just document it and move forward,” Jones said. The VA does not provide guidelines on what constitutes a reasonable attempt, but Jones noted certain student hardships are not included, such as debt or the expense of obtaining transcripts.

If an institution allows a student to enroll without previously reviewing all transcripts and determining certification and credit for courses, an institution must decertify a course if a student takes it for credit after already previously meeting that requirement. In that case, the institution would be responsible for the debt for tuition (but students still shoulder responsibility of cost for housing). An institution has the right to refuse to enroll a student until a review of all transcripts has been completed, but this rule must be applied to all students and not just student-veterans.

“There’s a lot of confusion about what makes an institution deemed approved [for educational benefits for student-veterans],” Jones said. One common source of confusion is that although an institution may be deemed approved for VA educational benefits, that doesn’t cover all programs within that institution. Those programs not automatically covered by an institutional approval include: nondegree programs, credential programs, certificates and programs offered by third-party providers, all of which must all be approved separately from the institution. This includes programs that use contracted elements, including contracted space and/or faculty — all programs, to be included under the banner of an institution deemed approved, must be provided solely by the institution.

One very important aspect of being deemed approved is the 85:15 program enrollment rule: enrollment of any single program must be less than 85 percent veterans at any given time. Although this is almost certain to be the case for any given program, Jones said that often small, specialty programs with high enrollments of student-veterans can run into trouble when only a few students graduate, skewing proportions of students to student-veterans dramatically. “Schools must document the enrollment for every program,” Jones said, adding that this 85:15 ratio does not apply only to veterans receiving benefits, but to any student who has served as a veteran (even those who don’t self-identify) and includes dependents. Many institutions offer student-veterans priority enrollment and must be sure that although student-veterans are given priority, the 85:15 ratio is maintained programwide. Sometimes institutions must stop enrollment in any given program or course until the enrollment ratio is balanced. Jones said this measure was part of recent efforts to regulate predatory institutions that were creating programs just for veterans. Establishing professional or MBA programs just for student-veterans, for example, creates this type of imbalance, although Jones said that programs are allowed to set up veteran-specific sections within the program itself.

New comparison tool may affect enrollment

In 2015, the Department of Education rolled out a new version of its GI Bill Comparison Tool. The new features included in the revamped version of the Comparison Tool include caution flags for student-veteran complaints, outcome measures and feedback. Jones also noted that the new version of the Comparison Tool only calculates student-veterans receiving benefits; first-time students; and students registered as full-time based on Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System data. Using this data can give student-veterans false outcomes data for many institutions, Jones said, citing that UC Riverside itself has many student-veterans but none are first-time students, so the university cannot report any student-veteran graduates. In addition, the Comparison Tool records student-veterans transferring out of institutions but no transfer-in rates. “Unfortunately there’s no way around it based on the data the VA is using at this time,” Jones said, adding that it’s a good idea to let higher administration know early on that the Comparison Tool might be skewing enrollment and completion outcomes for student-veterans.

Finally, Jones recommended two tools for anyone on campus looking to better serve their student-veterans, as well as how to comply with regulations. The American Council on Education’s Toolkit for Veteran Friendly Institutions offers resources including webinars; PDFs; and best practices on financial aid, student services and creating a successful veterans services program at https://vetfriendlytoolkit.acenet.edu/Pages/default.aspx. In addition, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers webinars and other training resources for higher education administrators at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/school_training_resources.asp.

Upcoming bills that might affect your campus

Looking forward to bills currently under consideration, Jones outlined a few of the more salient pieces of veterans higher education legislation that might affect campuses in the next few months, including:

  • H.R. 3016: Allows institutions to have student-veteran entitlement and eligibility information; removes discharge requirements for dependents under VACA; provides funding to the VA for better technology (possibly updating the GI Bill Comparison Tool); extends definition of educational institution to other organizations, like third-party providers; and reduces frequency of audits to institutions with clean records.
  • H.R. 478: Expands entitlement to benefits in science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors.
  • H.R. 1141: Counts time served by reservists under medical care toward post-9/11 GI eligibility and extends oversight of VA vocational rehabilitation programs for fairness and consistency.
8/10/2013 12:00 AM

Case name: Letter to: Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education (FPCO 07/12/12).

Ruling: The Family Policy Compliance Office concluded that records regarding tuition waivers maintained by a college or university’s enrollment services or bursar were protected from nonconsensual disclosures under the Family Policy Compliance Office. However, records maintained solely by the controller’s office as part of an institution’s payroll-withholding or tax-fling obligations were not protected under FERPA because they fell under the limited employment records exception.

Case name: Letter to: Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education (FPCO 07/12/12).

Ruling: The Family Policy Compliance Office concluded that records regarding tuition waivers maintained by a college or university’s enrollment services or bursar were protected from nonconsensual disclosures under the Family Policy Compliance Office. However, records maintained solely by the controller’s office as part of an institution’s payroll-withholding or tax-fling obligations were not protected under FERPA because they fell under the limited employment records exception.

What it means: Under FERPA’s limited employment records exception, an institution’s records are not considered “education records” if they (1) relate to an individual employed by an educational agency or institution; (2) are made and maintained in the normal course of business; (3) relate exclusively to the individual in that individual’s capacity as an employee; and (4) are not available for use for any other purposes.

Summary: The Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education’s general counsel sought advice from the FPCO regarding a possible conflict between the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the state’s Access to Public Records Act.

The counsel explained that the board received a records request under state law from the Providence Journal, requesting information regarding tuition waivers granted by the University of Rhode Island to employees and nonemployees and their relatives.

After an investigation, the FPCO noted that it appeared that the payroll information was solely used for employment purposes, including payroll-withholding and tax-filing purposes.

The FPCO explained that if a person is employed because of his status as a student — as is the case with graduate assistants — then that individual’s records are education records under FERPA.

The FPCO concluded that FERPA protected the personally identifiable information from the tuition waivers granted to nonemployee students whose records were solely maintained in enrollment services/bursar offices because their tuition waivers directly related to them as students and were maintained solely as student tuition records.

The office also concluded that FERPA protected the personally identifiable information from the tuition waiver records granted to graduate assistants and employees (and their respective spouses, domestic partners and dependent children) that were maintained in the institution’s human resources offices and enrollment services/bursar offices because that information was directly related to students and the records were maintained by the board and its governed educational institutions.

However, the FPCO noted that payroll records of the subset of employees whose records were maintained in the institution’s controller’s offices as part of the institution’s payroll-withholding or tax-filing obligations were not protected under FERPA because they fell under the limited employment record exception.

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  • Meet the Editor

    Joan Hope
    Editor

    Joan Hope became editor of The Successful Registrar in 2006. She brings years of experience in higher education and journalism to her work.
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