The Case for Drupal at Small and Mid-Sized Colleges
by Chris Hartigan
Drupal is used to run some of the largest web sites at some of the largest universities in the world. Massive institutions like University of Minnesota (64,000 students), Ohio State University (65,000 students), Austin Community College (70,000 students), King Khalid University (75,000 students), Arizona State University (80,000 students), and even University of Phoenix (250,000 students), employ Drupal to power some portion (if not all) of their digital strategy and they see Drupal as a valuable differentiator in their effort to enhance the online experience for all their constituents.
But interestingly, where we are seeing the strongest growth in higher education’s adoption of Drupal is with small to mid-sized schools, many of which are independent institutions that are taking an increasingly strategic approach to the digital side of their business and the impact it can have on overall institutional success. The reason for this phenomenal growth, I believe, is centered on three important factors:
1) An evolved understanding of what open source really means: open source has traditionally been seen by smaller colleges and universities as being both risky and expensive and as such was deemed to be best suited for those schools that could not only afford it but that also had – as part of their DNA - a fortitude for trying new things. Large, well-funded research institutions fit this description while smaller, traditional colleges didn’t. But the stigmas about open source are fading away as more and more open source projects prove their longevity and sustainability. These stigmas are being replaced with an appreciation that open source – when done correctly – proves to be more cost effective than alternative products and doesn’t introduce any added risk (certainly no more risk than what is accepted when a school ties itself to a proprietary software vendors roadmap). Certainly the presence of established enterprise support organizations (like Acquia) behind these large-scale open source projects also reduces risk and helps schools achieve a better likelihood of a successful open source initiative.
2) There is absolutely increased concern by schools about being tethered to a vendor’s roadmap and not having the flexibility needed to respond to changing business requirements. This concern is heightened in the realm of digital where the pace of change simply cannot be met by any proprietary provider who is naturally limited by both resources and vision. In the world of open source, especially with solutions like Drupal where the community behind the product is immense and diverse, innovation happens constantly and enables colleges and universities to think about their web strategies with agility and disruption in mind. Most of the small to mid-sized schools we are working with these days express complete frustration with their current state of “vendor lock-in” and are looking to free themselves of the dependency on a vendor’s roadmap and move forward against one they can define for themselves. Overall, this is the largest driver that we’re seeing in the marketplace for the adoption of Drupal by smaller colleges and universities.
3) More than ever the web is critical to the ongoing success of small and mid-sized colleges, and as the importance of the web is heightened so too is the need for tools and platforms that truly can deliver incredible online experiences. Schools all over are looking to enhance their communication flow in the face of challenging enrollment cycles, increased competitive threats and overall pressure regarding value delivery and outcomes. The first place any school looks to improve its external communication is the web, and without a doubt digital platforms are the foundation for how colleges and universities tell their unique story and position their brand. Drupal is well regarded as the premier content management system for the worlds most compelling brands, including over 85% of the most prominent and recognized large-scale universities on the planet. When it comes to choosing the best platform for a school’s digital infrastructure, Drupal is the clear leader.
While all this makes a compelling case for Drupal we wouldn’t assume that one size fits all. Determining the fit at your school based on your requirements, your business goals, and the complexion of your resources and overall culture is a critical component to any evaluation, especially for a technology solution as strategic as web content management. One school that we work closely with that recently went through such an evaluation is Point Loma Nazarene University, a 3,500 FTE faith-based, private school situated just outside of San Diego. Dave Bruno, Associate Director of Digital Marketing & Web, recently delivered a short webinar to discuss how Point Loma went through the process and how they came to their own Drupal decision. For any school that is looking to enhance their online presence, especially a small to mid-sized institution, this webinar recording is a great resource and recommended viewing. (Also, worth noting, is how great an experience PLU's website is - a testament to what's possible with Drupal). Dave Bruno's webinar recording can be found here.
No longer a solution that is only entertained by large schools, Drupal is continuing its rapid growth throughout higher education and is firmly entrenched at all levels in the industry. And especially for schools like Point Loma, who desire the power to disrupt and innovate but also require efficiency to fit within their operating structure, it is increasingly clear that there is no better choice.