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4 Major Priorities for the Digital Transformation of Higher Education

Acquia and Mediacurrent share key ways higher education leaders can engage students with technology this year.

From campus tours to class selections to new student orientation, college is all about trying new things and exploring new perspectives. For today’s college students, embracing change means so much more. The past year looked like no other in higher education. Students and faculty alike needed to learn to adapt to virtual learning environments and create the community and atmosphere of a college campus in a digital environment. This back-to-school season, higher education leaders are still adapting to the new digital standard, whether students are returning in person or online. 

The radical digital transformation of higher education isn’t slowing down. Digital leaders in higher ed need to adapt swiftly to students’ new expectations in order to boost enrollment rates and keep current students, staff and alumni engaged. Here are four higher ed digital transformation strategies to study up on. 

1. Improve Student and Staff Experience with Low-Code Technology

Both public and private universities are often restricted by tight budgets and limited staff, but it’s critical they work fast to attract today’s highly selective students. Especially with the impact of COVID-19 and school and government guidelines constantly changing, there’s added pressure on higher education leaders to make sure they are presenting the most accurate and current information. 

When resources are stretched thin, it’s critical that all teams be empowered to build and deliver digital experiences easily. In a competitive landscape, intuitive, low-code tools can help higher education workers make the most of their developer resources by reducing the time to create and launch new digital experiences. Low-code site-building tools allow new web pages and elements to be built and published faster with libraries of reusable components and drag-and-drop capabilities. By investing in technology with a more intuitive interface that doesn’t require any coding knowledge, faculty, marketers and web teams can participate in shaping the experiences they need, and bring these experiences to students faster and boost innovation. 

2. Help Students Carve Their Own Path with Personalized Journeys

While we all know the typical idealized college experiences from football games to frat parties to study abroad semesters, the truth is that no one’s college journey looks the same. Universities are often bringing thousands of people together from around the world, each with their own academic interests, financial needs and personal goals. 

Higher ed must create content that is relevant to the aims of each student and make it easy for them to find what they need. Moreover, universities have the added challenge of appealing to multiple audiences, including students’ families, alumni, donors and faculty. Designing customized moments in a virtual setting requires a holistic understanding of who each person is and a unique variety of content that maps to their interests. Universities need a way to gather data on students across multiple channels and sources all the way from the moment they start researching where to apply to deciding on switching majors to planning graduation and beyond. 

Many colleges are using technology to create interactive experiences like personalized virtual campus tours that go beyond just repeating general GPA requirements and dorm building names. In person, college tours are full of those extra little anecdotes about campus superstitions or the best late-night food spots in the surrounding city. The goal is to bring that memorability to a virtual setting. Elements like filtering tour content by major or offering specific areas on your website curated for first-generation students or athletes can help schools stand out among catalogs full of different university options. 

3. Create a Connected College Community with Multisite Governance 

A college campus is truly its own wider ecosystem with a ton of smaller worlds contained within a unifying identity. In addition to their main website, most higher education institutions are managing a large number of microsites and portals for each program and department. If each department is operating off its own disparate content management system (CMS), the result is hundreds of disconnected sites that don’t have a larger collective identity. 

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higher education digital transformation

To maintain brand consistency and ensure that information is accurate and aligned with the university’s overarching mission and values, higher education leaders need technology that can allow for creativity without devolving into chaos. A centralized platform with overarching governance and clearly defined roles and responsibilities set a clear standard across departments, teams and campuses. 

Choosing a CMS that is both agile and resilient cuts down on confusion and frustration while still allowing individuals to make the changes they need. Multisite management tools allow teams to roll out updates across multiple sites at once, saving valuable time. Perhaps most importantly, creating this sense of connection and harmony between the virtual higher education experience and the on-campus experience allows students to feel that they aren’t missing out on memories and opportunities that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. 

4. Deliver Content Anywhere

Students today aren't just interacting with educational institutions on traditional websites and in-person tours. They increasingly look to their mobile devices, tablets and other technologies to get information and engage with universities. Many students are extremely busy balancing responsibilities like jobs or childcare, and they need to be able to access content while on the go. Maybe a student will submit an assignment on the bus during their morning commute or write an entire essay on their tablet. Universities need to ensure that their portals and learning management systems are flexible enough to accommodate all of these device types and whatever new technologies emerge next. 


The current generation of digitally savvy students expects more from higher education institutions. For more tips on how to embrace digital transformation in the higher education sector, join the experts at Acquia and Mediacurrent for our webinar: Delivering Meaningful Digital Experiences in Higher Ed.

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