Using Drupal to Increase Student Engagement at IES Abroad
by Chris Hartigan
IES Abroad is one of the largest and most notable operators of study abroad programs in the world. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Richard Bartecki, EVP of Marketing, to better understand how their Drupal strategy is helping support their business growth. What I learned was that, like many of Acquia's college and university partners, IES Abroad has been able to increase its online effectiveness with students all over the world by harnessing the power of Drupal for mobile delivery, SEO, and for overall online storytelling. More from my conversation with Richard follows.
IES has grown to be one of the largest and most respected providers of study abroad programs in the industry. What do you believe are some ofIES's core strengths that have helped make it so successful?
A number of factors have likely contributed to IES Abroad’s growth and its strong reputation in the field. Experience plays a major role. IES Abroad has been educating students abroad for more than 60 years, with more than 85,000 students participating in our programs. Nothing beats experience when sending students abroad.
IES Abroad’s academic quality also is a major differentiator. We are an academic consortium, comprised of some of the finest colleges and universities in America. Every program we offer is reviewed and approved by a curriculum committee staffed by representatives of the schools in our consortium. We cannot offer a program without the approval of our curriculum committee, so schools, parents and students know that our academic programs meet the standards of the schools in our consortium.
Finally, we have an incredible group of experienced, talented people around the world who, as we say, are a little obsessed with study abroad. From the moment a student first encounters IES Abroad, they have an IES Abroad advisor helping them every step of the way. When they reach their study abroad destination, they have staff members available 24/7 to assist them. We focus on every detail to make every student’s experience as positive and enriching as possible.
How has IES's digital strategy played a role in the growth of the company and how has your digital strategy changed over time?
Since the launch of our new Drupal website in October 2013, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the number of visitors to our site. We focused heavily on search engine optimization and the results have been tremendous. Our digital strategy has changed to adapt to a more mobile market and focuses on SEO to make sure we reach our audience in the various ways they search for study abroad information on the internet.
Why has IES chosen to build its digital strategy on top of Drupal? What are the greatest benefits of Drupal that IES values the most?
Flexibility was the single greatest reason IES Abroad chose to build its new website with Drupal. Drupal allows us to avoid getting locked into a proprietary product with no opportunity to influence the direction of the product. With an open source product IES Abroad has been able to develop features that meet its needs, which are very unique, given the way IES Abroad recruits students and the way students utilize our web site to learn about our programs, to register and to complete their applications.
Lastly, how do you see the future of higher education changing and what impact will that have on IES's digital strategy if any?
Higher education is undergoing tremendous change. In particular, for organizations such as IES Abroad, we’re seeing that students and parents are becoming very well-informed consumers of education services, including study abroad. We believe that our digital strategy will need to continually evolve to meet the growing need for information and for communication between students, parents, schools and IES Abroad. As such, we’ll need to continually assess and reassess the manner in which we communicate with parents, students and schools to ensure they receive the right information, at the right time, in a format that works for them as effectively as possible.