Why the Web Matters to Higher Education

The importance of a college website cannot be understated. Even though college websites have been around for 20 years, many higher education institutions still don’t understand their importance. While college websites have become ubiquitous, too many campuses continue to take their sites for granted.

The web is now mission-critical, meaning that if your web presence fails, your business operations fail. Imagine what would happen if your website disappeared tomorrow. Could your campus still function? What would be the financial impact? The impact on enrollment? The impact on your reputation and credibility?

When thinking about the importance of the web, a good place to start is with data. One large university I work with has almost 25 million people visit their website each year. The time spent on the site each year is over 116 million hours. The web is now the primary point of contact along the entire student life cycle; from prospective students to current students to alumni.

A poorly presented college website carries considerable risk. While many people focus just on legal risks like copyright and privacy, there is substantial reputation risk as well. A poorly designed website reflects negatively on the institution and it goes beyond brand and messaging. Having broken links, content that is out of date, misspelled words, etc. are symptoms of a site that doesn’t receive the proper care and feeding, and it hurts credibility. I am always amazed at the number of misspelled words I find on college websites. It’s fair to say that there is an expectation that institutions of higher learning would know how to spell!

A great website can address a number of challenges faced by colleges and universities. The first is escalating costs. As college costs continue to rise, there will be increasing pressure to bring these costs under control by optimizing operational efficiencies. The web provides opportunities for improved services, greater efficiency, quicker publishing cycles, wider availability, and substantial cost savings.

Colleges are increasingly competing for quality students. A generation ago there were very few marketing offices on college campuses. Now the competition for students is intense and the web is the most important channel for recruiting students. Having a good website is critical. Recent data from the Noel-Levitz e-Expectations Report shows that 92% of college bound high school seniors will be disappointed if they have a bad experience on a college website. More importantly, 24% of them said they had taken a school off of their list because of a bad web experience.

The Millennial students of today will soon be replaced by the iGeneration (Internet generation) who take the use of technology to a whole new level. While Millennials grew up with computers, the iGeneration are the first students who were born into a world of technology. These digital natives are connected 24/7. They are inseparable from their wireless devices and they will have high expectations when they get to college.

Looking into the future, the web will continue to grow in importance. Soon, the physical campus will be replaced by the digital campus. 20 years ago Nicholas Negroponte wrote the seminal book “being digital”. Negroponte presents a strong argument that we are headed towards a future where everything that can be digitized will be digitized. We will make the transition from atoms to bits. We are slowly seeing this in higher education and when it does happen, the web will be the center of the entire college experience.

Digital is going to rock higher education to its core. Are you ready?

About the author

Mark Greenfield is a highly regarded, influential member of the higher education web community.  He is an experienced consultant and award winning speaker who works with campuses to improve their web and digital efforts.  His 28 years working on a college campus combined with his extensive consulting and speaking background provides his clients with a breadth and depth of experiences to fully leverage the web and digital. He specializes in strategic planning, web and digital governance, web evaluation, social media strategy, leadership training, user centered design, emerging technologies and web accessibility. Learn more about Mark at http://markgr.com

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by Mark A. Greenfield
May 14th
2015

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