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How Higher Ed Can Improve Website Student Engagement

It’s no secret that college students are rather resourceful when it comes to finding answers to questions they don’t have the answers to. After all, when Google and YouTube are available on the device of choice, there is nothing a student can’t figure out the answer for.

Yet, when it comes to learning about your institution, that intuitive research process is often less desirable than they experience throughout their everyday lives. Higher ed websites tend to be geared towards prospective students, yet rarely contain information relevant to current students.

“I think a lot of times institutions have a structured website targeting specific groups of students,” David Glezerman, Managing Partner at DRG Group said during Institute’s Future of Higher Ed webinar on Jan. 25. “It’s used a lot from an admissions perspective for prospecting, but then you send current students to a different channel.”

The result is a disconnect between students and staff on how often students are utilizing the website to find answers to their questions.

According to a poll of higher ed professionals conducted during the Jan. 25 webinar, 30 percent of administrators believe that students always or mostly utilize their website to find answers to their questions. However, when that same question was asked to recent college graduates, over half said that they sometimes or infrequently don’t go to websites to get answers to their questions.

What explains the disparity? According to our CRO Mary Frances Coryell, it has to do with information overload.

“Websites have too much information, not the right amount of information so folks have lost confidence in websites and we need to regain that confidence,” she said. Institute’s Future of Higher Ed webinar laid out how institutions can drive student engagement through their website. Here are some of the top insights from the webinar.

Make information easily accessible

The first rule about your website is that it needs to be more than about your website. Consider that a student is likely looking at your site on a mobile phone or tablet.

If your site is full of irrelevant content and difficult to navigate, you’re going to have a hard time keeping students engaged.

According to Mary Frances, “until you re-instill that confidence, they’re going to continue to say ‘yea I don’t want to go to the website. It’s not reliable.’”

Adding technology such as chatbots, a search bar or live chat ensures that your students can take control of the search process and get answers they’re looking for with little to no effort. Instead of relying on the student portal, provide a mechanism for students to ask for exactly the information they’re looking for without leaving your website.

Embrace student feedback

Students have shown a willingness to provide more personalized data so long as it’s beneficial to their higher ed experience. Yet many higher ed decisions are made off of assumptions, rather than direct feedback.

“A lot of times we know what we want as administrators and we think we know what the students want, but we’re really not talking to the students enough,” David said.

In order to better engage students, embrace focus groups, surveys and Big Data to gather insights needed to make better decisions. For example, students might have confusion over how to find their financial aid balance or whether or not a community college class will transfer for full credit.

Institutions need to move beyond reactive communications and instead learn how to provide what students need before they communicate it. Ideally, the website should help students get to the point where they are no longer asking questions.

“We need data to understand how it’s better to communicate so we’re not putting ourselves in positions where we’re reacting, but anticipating what students need,” David said.

Keep adult learners in mind

When most think of higher education, they think of the traditional college student at a university. However, as virtual learning increases in popularity, educators need to look at reaching a market of adult learners and cater towards their needs.

There are multiple reasons for adult learners to take advantage of an online learning program. It could help them further develop their current job skills or even make a switch to a more fulfilling career.

Yet most higher ed websites cater mostly to undergraduate students and leave the adult learner out of the equation. This is a serious oversight for institutions, especially with an impending enrollment cliff.

Start creating content that caters to them and you’ll have a significantly easier time standing out from other institutions. Of course, it’s not enough to simply change the messaging, layout how adult learners can take advantage of online learning while getting the personalized attention they desire.

It’s time for institutions to think critically about the information they have on their website and take a more agile approach. Increasing student engagement requires delivering the right message on the right medium in a timely manner.

Institutions can achieve this by developing content relevant to students at diverse stages of their journey while optimizing the current website experience.

Watch the most recent webinar for more tips on how to utilize your website to drive student engagement and learn what found after surveying more than 500 recent college graduates.