When prospective students visit an institution's website, they're seeking information about cost and academics--along with some campus life content and other topics packing an emotional punch thrown in.
A new report, "Navigating Toward E-Recruitment," based on a survey of 1,000 high school juniors, details most-wanted web content and compares it to how students currently use college sites. A golden opportunity may exist with instant messaging, for example. Nearly three-quarters of respondents say they would ask a question of a school via IM and also be receptive to receiving a college-generated IM. Yet only six percent have used this technology on a school's site.
"Clearly, there's a lot of discussion over the purpose of a university website," says Mark Mende, co-founder and president of HighEdWeb, a group of web professionals in higher education that runs an annual web developers conference and an active listserv. Nearly every U.S. institution probably prioritizes its audience differently, adds Mende, also coordinator of Electronic Communications at St. Lawrence University (N.Y.).
After a redesign, St. Lawrence's opening page is now geared toward high school students. Their focus group research on what prospective students want to see generally meshes with the Noel-Levitz survey, says Mende, noting that opinions on tech bells and whistles varied. Nearly two-thirds felt that "college sites shouldn't be very flashy, but have a lot of great content." The school's research revealed that "while content is relatively king, [students] want to be engaged. So we've got some flash movies and a flash intro."
The survey is online at www.noellevitz.com.