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SACRAO 2017 Bursary - thinking of applying?

If you attended SROC 2016 you will have heard that last February I had the opportunity to represent the SROC committee at the Southern Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (SACRAO) conference in the USA. You will have seen Patrick Nolan’s presentation on his and Caroline Carfree’s (our other bursary winner’s) experience. As applications for SACRAO 2017 bursaries opened last week, I found myself reflecting on my own journey.

Like SROC, SACRAO moves to a different location every year and in 2016 I found myself in Oklahoma City. Unlike SROC with its average 200 attendees, SACRAO with three times those numbers was held in a conference centre, so the campus feel was unfortunately lost, but with around 100 sessions over 4 days, I was soon glad I didn’t have far to walk anywhere. The conference ran from Sunday to Wednesday and despite the numerous plenaries, breakouts (by both providers and suppliers) and meetings, there was plenty of time for visiting exhibitors, lunching, talking to colleagues and taking in the full US experience (including the Super Bowl, with nachos, beer and everything).

Sessions at SACRAO are not pre-booked and attendees manage their schedule through an app. The flexibility is important when, like me, you’re learning as you go. I quickly discovered things like what a 2 vs 4 year college is, that forgiveness is not an act of mercy, why, to my great confusion, everyone kept calling me a Registrar and how, as a Registrar, I had available to me a national best practice handbook - it’s 500 pages and 38 chapters long. And yet, by far, the most surprising thing was the mind-boggling variety of institutions attending. To those of us used to the homogenised UK HE sector, a shock to the system - and perhaps a taste of things to come.

The sessions I attended were broad; or so I thought. Looking back I see that they all had one thing in common: students truly were at the heart of the system. So I heard about the post-Snowden world of increased data protection awareness (with a 40 year old FERPA struggling to keep up) and how Higher Education providers should consider it their duty to educate students about data privacy. I saw the major reorganisation and process review in Tri-Country Technical College to centre everything around the student journey, while Jacksonville State University and the University of North Alabama renamed and restructured a good chunk of their provision to make it possible for students to apply for financial support. I listened to Robin R Carr of the University of Arkansas talk about how university was not the kind of thing you did where she came from and the distress she faced on her first day, followed by the very human support she got that helped her stick with it. She now helps other students learn to belong.

In the end, the most memorable session was from Tulane University, who had rolled out a preferred student name and pronoun policy across the institution. The project came down from senior management and the thought and care that had gone into the implementation was inspiring. Beyond process redesign, the project included sensitivity training for new staff, guidance on data protection when liaising with guardians and restricting access to legal name for anyone who didn’t need to know (including tutors). It struck me how little it would cost to implement that type of change and what a difference to students it would make. How such a small thing, from any kind of business perspective, would help create that safe environment in which to explore the human and create the adult. And isn’t that what universities are for?

SACRAO 2017 runs from 12-15 February. If you’re a SROC 2016 attendee you will have received an invitation email to apply for an all-expenses-paid Bursary. Yes, ALL expenses. If you’re still thinking about it, I strongly encourage you to do so. Sure, a trip to St. Pete Beach in Florida is a wonderful thing… I’m not going to sit here and tell you that data is more exciting than sandy beaches (or am I!?), but the SACRAO experience is so much more than that; it’s something I keep looking back on as I keep looking forward. Higher Education in the UK is changing and the familiar yet different of the American sector and all the gears it sets in motion as you compare and contrast will hopefully convince you, as it did me, of our adaptability as HE professionals. And we’ll be needing a lot of that in the brave new #HEBill world.

Marian Hilditch

SROC Committee

SACRAO 2017 bursary applications are available to all SROC 2016 attendees. The deadline is Monday 10 October 2016 and all the information you need will have been sent to you via email.

If you have any questions about the bursary application process, please contact Jayne Hornsby.

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