college students with laptop on bleachers

Why Drupal is the Smart Choice for Higher Education

Back-to-school season is officially here, and for today’s higher ed leaders, creating A+ digital experiences is far more complex than just emailing a list of required textbooks and watching first-year students fill up lecture halls armed with the latest MacBooks. A university’s ecosystem and audience is vast, incorporating prospective students and families, current students, faculty and alumni. All of these users are searching for different results from their interactions with a higher education organization. They’re also viewing this information across many types of devices and channels, meaning that it’s more important than ever for higher education websites to be accessible and responsive to visitors who may be looking to view an interactive campus tour on a tablet, find university news on message boards or request an application through their smartphones. 

Having a digital platform that can adapt to support your institution’s strategic initiatives is key to connecting with multiple audiences. Today, Drupal is the most widely used content management system in higher education. Over 70% of higher education institutions rely on Drupal to drive their digital strategy. Drupal is the preferred CMS for higher education because it provides the most flexibility for creating and managing various kinds of content to suit the needs of many different groups and audiences. Drupal’s intuitive content management allows faculty and educators with non-technical backgrounds to easily create and publish quiz materials, course descriptions and lesson plans. Meanwhile, Drupal’s commitment to making content easily accessible and visible across multiple platforms and formats is useful for prospective and current students and families who need essential information such as enrollment processes, personal accommodations, on-campus events and much more. 

Learn how Drupal and Acquia support some of the top institutions and universities in the world to build better EDU sites and create digital experiences that are both educational and engaging.  

Building More Accessible Experiences from Application to Graduation  

To quote activist and Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, “Education is education and it’s the right of every human being.” One of the greatest principles throughout the higher education system is that learning should be available to everyone. Students come to schools from all over the world with different accommodation needs, native languages and access to technology. Schools participating in federal financial aid programs are required to make reasonable considerations to ensure their web content is accessible. In 2017, the federal government adopted Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)  for all its websites, and activist groups have filed lawsuits against hundreds of higher education institutions for failing to meet these standards, in some cases resulting in very expensive consequences. In 2016, a visually impaired student filed a suit against Miami University for requiring students with disabilities to use inaccessible websites and Learning Management System (LMS) software, hindering their ability to participate in certain courses. The university had to pay $25,000 in compensation and update all of their web content and learning management systems conform to federal web accessibility standards. 

For institutions that generally have tight budgets and limited faculty resources, the idea of facing a high profile lawsuit or manually auditing thousands of text, video and audio files is daunting. Thankfully, Drupal 8 is equipped with features that support all of today’s website accessibility standards from helping screen readers understand web pages, choosing font styles and colors that meet compliance guidelines and allowing content editors to easily add alt text and descriptive tags to images. 

Acquia and ImageX also developed OpenEDU, a pre-configured Drupal 8 implementation that is designed to meet the needs of higher education. OpenEDU is outfitted with ready-made content types so institutions can quickly create and manage universally required pages such as course descriptions and faculty profiles. The distribution leverages Acquia Lightning’s Drupal support functionality for simplifying editorial workflows, layouts and media handling so that all sites are both compliant and brand consistent.

The University of Arizona, which has been recognized for both its online and in-person efforts to make their campus inclusive of those with disabilities, uses Drupal to build a totally accessible electronic and information technology (EIT) environment. Not only has this allowed the University of Arizona to improve the web experiences of its own students, but they’ve also dedicated a resource hub to give other universities the tools they need to make sure that all their content is able to be understood by anyone.   

Image attribution: 3PlayMedia 

Picking Your Dream School with Better Personalization

You’ve likely heard the claim that “college is the best four years of your life.” Society idealizes the college experience as one of adventure, self-growth, friendship and untapped potential that people will look back on for decades to come. As tuition continues to rise and more schools increase their focus on culture by offering everything from indoor wave pools to study abroad programs that span from Argentina to Antarctica, higher education institutions must work harder to differentiate themselves and connect with prospective students. This is why it’s more important than ever for universities to be able to offer exceptional personalized experiences. 

Web design firm and Acquia partner OHO Interactive used both Drupal and Acquia Lift to launch a new personalization strategy for Bryant University, intended to target their accepted student populations and increase yearly enrollment rates. Bryant was also particularly interested in using personalization tactics to boost their percentage of enrolled female applicants and Chinese international students. OHO developed a site for Undergraduate Admissions that leveraged dynamic messages on their landing pages to highlight features of Bryant’s campus life that were most relevant to each visitor’s interests. Through Drupal’s centralized platform, the firm was able to streamline all of the institution's current digital properties and academic programs into this Undergraduate Admission site. This allowed them to keep the attention of prospective students during their journey and eliminated the need to open extra tabs to find information on course requirements, available majors, etc. OHO also created a collection of student and alumni success stories and resource materials that promoted post-grad career opportunities and networking events. The agency promoted each of these stories across the site and used Acquia Lift to display the most relevant content to prospects.

bryant homepage

Using data from previous interactions, the digital agency configured site users into segments and personas within Acquia Lift and used the Drupal 8 CMS to make and publish customized content assets that were then included on the homepage for each of those segments. These personalized homepage features included student profiles, custom financial aid resources and unique call to action buttons. In less than a year of running this personalized campaign strategy, Bryant University was able to reach a larger pool of admitted international students and increase their overall enrollment conversions.

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Today's students are under intense pressure to find a place that suits their needs socially, academically and financially. As future generations demand more personalized experiences from their digital pathways, it’s the responsibility of higher education leaders to show prospective students that they understand them on more personal, intimate levels. Drupal’s CMS easily integrates with personalization tools like Acquia Lift, so you can give prospective students exactly what they’re looking for and quickly become their top choice school.

Keeping Students Safe and Easing Family Fears with Multisite Management 

The landscape of higher education can be vast and intimidating both physically and on the web. Every year millions of families struggle to stay-in-touch with students who leave home to live in dorms all around the world. Meanwhile, the universities themselves struggle to maintain connections and keep track of the hundreds of adjacent sites operated by different departments, donors and board members. Fortunately, Drupal’s multisite functionality allows users to centrally manage the university’s central page while giving content independence to each department or school that falls under that institution's reach. Drupal allows content editors and site owners to update and edit many sites from a single Drupal codebase, which reduces the overhead of handling code across multiple sites or having to devote tons of time and resources into updating customized one-off sites.

rice homepage

Rice University’s previous CMS was unresponsive to large-scale updates and posed a number of challenges for content teams attempting to create and deploy messaging at scale across all of their digital properties. The lack of a unified codebase to streamline their massive repository of content resulted in slow, single-site updates and brand inconsistency between departmental sites. In dire need of a more streamlined solution, Rice’s CIO transitioned the institution from a legacy CMS to Drupal 8 and Acquia Cloud Site Factory, a centralized site delivery and management platform that can quickly deploy and maintain hundreds or thousands of multisite experiences. 

The switch to Drupal and Acquia was a major source of comfort when Hurricane Harvey struck the university campus in 2017. Rice used the cloud to quickly gather safety updates from the community. This real-time data was then distributed en masse across 280 Rice University sites through Acquia Cloud Site Factory, calming the fears of faraway parents and offering support and emergency safety information to potential victims and first responders. 

Drupal Modules for Higher Ed Sites

Now that you’ve gotten the crash course on why Drupal earns top marks for higher ed digital experiences, we want to give you the right tools to build impressive Drupal sites that are optimized with higher education in mind. Here are a few of the best Drupal 8 modules to add to your back-to-school shopping list:

  • Bibliography + Citation -  This updated D8 module provides an API to render a complete bibliography citation, reference data and keywords for even the heftiest academic sources. 

  • Entity Registration - To help get the word out about events, clubs and showcases happening across campus, the Entity Registration module displays cross-department events on one platform, allows campus organizers to send customizable reminder messages and set registration open and close dates. 

  • Quiz - The Quiz module is specifically designed for educators and professors to design multiple formats of digital tests and quizzes for their students, save their scores and responses in a database and clearly display assessment results in real time. 

Paige Breaux

Content Marketing Manager Acquia

Paige Breaux is Acquia's Content Marketing Manager. Paige is a lifelong storyteller and enthusiastic editor with a background in writing and digital marketing for B2B tech brands and online lifestyle publications. Before joining Acquia, she worked in content marketing for a global SaaS+ company and interned for various trade publishing houses. She can regularly be found around Boston reading, running, or sipping on iced coffee.