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Mobile College Searches Catching On?

University Business, Sept 2011

More than one-quarter of teenage cell phone users have gone online with their devices, and online usage is greatest among students in households with less than $30,000 annual income, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, released in 2010. While that’s based on 2009 data, a May 2011 Pew survey of American adults revealed that more than one-third own a smartphone, so it’s likely teen use has increased also. Are prospective students using their mobile phones for the college search?

The numbers are still small, according to research released this summer in the 2011 E-Expectations Report, “The Online Expectations of Prospective College Students and Their Parents,” sponsored by Noel-Levitz, OmniUpdate (a CMS provider), and the National Center for College & University Admissions. In the poll of 1,089 high school seniors, 14 percent reported having looked at a college site via a mobile device.

But mobile development should still be a priority, the report notes. Mobile access of college websites is increasing monthly “by astronomical percentages,” says Stephanie Geyer, associate vice president for web strategy services at Noel-Levitz. “There is plenty of evidence that mobile is an essential new platform to be using well in recruitment marketing and overall communication efforts.” Campuses with many low-income students may want to make development a higher priority. As Geyer says, other data sources about mobile use show it’s increasing significantly among minority populations.

Noel-Levitz advises having mobile sites (rather than just apps and interactive content), Geyer says. They work regardless of device/platform and are faster to market, less expensive, and easier to update than apps. But be prepared to tailor to various key markets. A current student’s mobile site needs are quite different from those of a prospective undergrad or prospective graduate student, she notes. “The key resources current students want are distinct from those of the prospects.”
Some good news: 93 percent of students who had browsed college websites on a mobile device reported having a good experience. Their top desired tasks: Calculate college costs, calculate scholarships, schedule a visit, watch videos, and access social media assets.

The full report is available at

—Melissa Ezarik