Mark Ashley

A Registrar is Born

Mark Ashley, winner of the 2021 Mudd Prize, describes the multi-faceted role of a registrar.

Written by Sarah Barnes

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A lot has changed since Mark Ashley began his tenure as registrar and assistant vice president for student information management at Harvey Mudd College 10 years ago.

“The volume of data the registrar’s office consumes and produces, the demands on the office as the College has expanded its curricular offerings, the need to integrate new technology with existing systems, ever-changing compliance reporting” are all elements of the registrar’s role that have increased and changed exponentially over the years. Ashley says the only area where he’s been able to scale back is paper usage. “We’ve moved more and more processes online, which positioned us well when the College went online at the start of COVID. If the pandemic had hit when I started at Mudd in 2011, when virtually every form was a paper form, it would have been much more difficult to maintain continuity. Today, we rarely even receive paper documents anymore. I hardly ever use my stapler.”

With or without staples, Ashley holds together the registrar’s mellifluous duties, work that Ashley admits even he didn’t fully comprehend until he started doing the job. “The registrar works with just about everyone at the College. Students often think of us as the office that deals with registration matters (it’s in the name!), and the folks who enable access to transcripts, enrollment verifications, etc., but there’s so much more that goes on behind the scenes to make the College operate. Even when I worked or studied at colleges and universities, I had no idea what the registrar really did until I actually was a registrar.”

He’s become so adept at his role and for being a key collaborator on campus that Ashley was recognized for his extraordinary service to the College. During the Convocation ceremony in August, Ashley was awarded the Henry T. Mudd Prize. Among the many reasons President Maria Klawe gave for honoring Ashley, she noted “his tremendous impact on the College and its people,” as well as “his selfless commitment to the educational initiatives and priorities” of the College. Here’s more about his multi-faceted work plus his thoughts on administrative excellence and a monumental 5C project.

How did you come to be the registrar at HMC?

No one ever says they want to be a registrar when they grow up. I was a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Chicago when I began working as master’s thesis advisor and administrator in their graduate program in international relations. While I had envisioned myself as a future professor, I realized I enjoyed the work of advising, teaching and administration far more than my dissertation research. I subsequently landed in North Carolina, where I served as associate dean for academic advising at Winston-Salem State University, a regional HBCU within the University of North Carolina system, and later registrar and director of institutional research at Salem College, a women’s college. I was initially attracted to the institutional research aspect of the role, but it was the registrar side of the job that I came to enjoy the most. It’s also where I learned to love working at a small liberal arts college.

In what ways are you a resource for faculty?

Faculty rely on the registrar’s office team for accurate, timely and thorough knowledge of academic policy, student degree progress and course records, curricular logistics, classroom utilization and institutional memory of the academic program of the College. While faculty enact the academic policies of the College and have primary oversight of the curriculum, the registrar’s office maintains the integrity and accuracy of academic records by enforcing those policies and ensuring that students’ degree requirements are met. We serve as resources for advisors, and we work closely with the academic deans and core curriculum director to ensure that students are in the courses they need to graduate. Whenever there’s an initiative that involves coursework, past, present or future, we’re likely involved.

I serve on several committees alongside faculty, such as the Curriculum Committee (which reviews new majors and course proposals), the Scholarly Standing Committee (which reviews student requests for exceptions to policy, and which proposes revisions or additions to academic policy), the Core Implementation Committee (which, as its name suggests, coordinates the rollout of the new Core), and the Study Abroad Committee (which reviews student applications to study internationally, and which evaluates study abroad programs for their suitability for Mudders), just to name a few. I also advocate for HMC’s needs and interests in Claremont-wide discussions of consortial policy and academically focused technology, such as the new 5C student information system, which is itself a huge ongoing project.

What’s a typical day like for you?

One of the things I appreciate the most about my job is that there’s so much variation. The work of the registrar’s office sits at the intersection of so many aspects of the College, and I appreciate that I can interact with so many constituencies and have meaningful conversations about such a range of issues affecting students, faculty and staff. Some days I may be focused on drafting a proposed change to our audit policy, or helping departments think through the downstream curricular impacts of a change to a course offering, or debating how changes to one college’s data governance policy might affect the rest of the consortium, or troubleshooting a 5C course schedule display bug with colleagues in Computer Information Services, or collaborating with my colleagues in institutional research on compliance reporting that allows us to continue to offer financial aid, or helping a new transfer student figure out the optimal sequence of courses for the next semester, or, or, or … . I love the variety. And some days my work is entirely at the consortium level, since there’s so much collaboration to navigate.

In her remarks about your award, President Maria Klawe mentioned your “vision of an administrative excellence that parallels the College’s teaching and research excellence.” What is that vision?

My goal is for the registrar’s office at Harvey Mudd College to be consistently known as a reliable, accurate and thoughtful source for timely and contextually informed information for all constituencies. I never want us to rest on our laurels, to require red tape for the sake of bureaucratic inertia, and as mentioned before, I believe it’s critical for us to be creative and iterative, perpetually reevaluating the work we do and adjusting to new information and needs. I believe in cross-training and development, so there’s never a gap in our ability to support the needs of the College if someone falls ill or moves on to an amazing new opportunity. I’m a big fan of transparency and listening to ideas from others, regardless of the source, if there’s a way to make something better. And I can’t stand it when someone says, “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” I believe in hiring smart people, giving them projects that keep them interested and challenged and encouraging the team (and myself) to keep learning and improving.

What’s coming up for HMC that you’re excited about?

There’s a lot of great work going into the new Core curriculum, and I’m excited to see how students, faculty and staff will feel about this change as it happens over time. I’m also deeply involved in the implementation of a new student information system for the 5Cs, which is an enormous and time-consuming project. The process has been underway for several years already, but the complexity of fitting five independent institutions, with separate faculties, programs, policies and credit systems, and with no one in charge, is both a personal and technical challenge unlike any I’ve ever experienced.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love to be surrounded by such smart and creative people. Obviously, the students, who are the reason we’re all here. But I really love the people I work with, whether in the registrar’s office, on the data team, or members of the faculty and staff, and the wit and joy they bring to their work. I love the collaborative spirit at HMC and the good work we can do when we recognize that we’re on the same team.

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