Higher Education’s Equation: Simplify Digital Complexity
by Barbara Solomon
Colleges and universities were some of the first organizations to create websites. They are natural content generators with access to great thinkers, cutting edge research and engaged students, not to mention they embody the word community. The web, as a result, was the perfect vehicle for them to communicate all they had to share and connect what they knew with those who were seeking the content that mattered to them.
But as we look at today’s landscape and the evolution of higher education digital strategies, is the compatibility of the web and higher education too much of a good thing? Too good of a match, if there is such a thing, leading to too many disparate websites floating around out there? What happens when a student moves on, a course changes, an organization folds, a professor starts a new area of research, or a project outgrows its old site? Do they contact IT and ask them to take it down? Worse, did they build the sites according to the brand standards and style guides that are becoming increasingly important to those in higher education marketing?
Even though websites have come a long way since those early days, the challenges institutions face are still evident. At the beginning, there was the early adopter phase, then the “I need a web developer to build anything” days, and now we are in a new era- the era of web platforms. While schools have become highly dependent on digital platforms to drive all aspects of business, the effort required to build and manage web sites has become far more efficient than in the old days. While this seems to be an effective progression that higher education institutions are making, they still face new challenges that come with the rate at which innovation is occurring all around them.
Take recruitment and retention, for example. Today’s higher education arena is increasingly complex when it comes to recruitment and retention. Elevating your web strategy revolves around the rate at which websites can be deployed and the ease with which they can be updated and maintained. Staying ahead of the resulting tangle of web sites and the associated costs is imperative in today’s ever-changing digital world. Schools find that by using a central platform to deploy sites quickly from templates, as opposed to building each site individually, they can maintain certain brand and end-user experience expectations while maintaining security and accessibility requirements. Also, they can utilize a centralized platform dashboard to keep track of websites and prevent the orphan site issue. All of this would allow them to focus on being forward thinking, focusing on things like site impact and user experience.
Lastly, a website is only as good as the content on the page. The ability to efficiently edit, upload and share content across sites is vital to effectively delivering a great digital campus experience. Passing content over the wall in applications like Word to a web developer in IT or leaving content owners on their own with little training or technical skill can be inefficient and leads to the type of frustration that hampers quality and frequent content refreshes. A solution that provides content creators with fool-proof templates and wizards that effectively distribute content authoring to the far reaches of campus, regardless of job function or skill can help content strategies immensely and get to the core of an institution's mission- to share and educate.
Today, we shop in the virtual world of storefronts, whether we’re pricing the options on a new car, comparing the attributes of a digital single lens reflex (dSlr) camera, or looking for a new home. Shopping for a college or university is no different and those doing the looking expect similar experiences. Long before a student ever walks through the front gate of a campus, they have spent many hours online shopping campuses, cities versus rural locations, an institution’s noted majors, and aid packages. In fact, the great digital experience offered by an institution of higher education may be the best chance a school has to attract a student who will be looking at many universities—maybe scores of universities. And that number is only rising.
Higher education, like other organizations, have progressed a long way in recent decades. The lesson learned? The top marks for a great digital experience in higher education will be earned by simple, yet powerful digital site solutions that no longer need to be built, but simply deployed.