In May of 2017, the assistant vice president of academic advising for Kennesaw State University sent out an email to 4,000 students who had not yet registered for summer or fall classes.
He asked students what he could do to help them register, and got a ton of replies—1,300 to be exact— telling him why they had not registered yet. One big reason? Not knowing how to declare their major, or changing a misdeclared major. Students wrote, “I know what I want to do, I know what I want my major to be, but I don’t know who to talk to. I know where I want to go, but I don’t know how to get there.”
Declaring a major is something so simple that should be so easy. Students should know exactly how to do it—right?
This is just one example of something students should know about from an easy-to-find resource. Students need a place to go that helps, not hinders, their experience with you—so they stay at your university for their entire educational journey.
That resource is your website.
Student Retention: Provide an Engaging Website Experience
As part of a secondary educational institution, your job is to attract and keep students. That’s hard to do.
Retention rates vary for each type of university, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The retention rate for full-time undergraduate institutions was 81 percent in 2016. At less selective public institutions, the retention rate was 62 percent, while at the most selective colleges and universities, the retention rate was 96 percent.
So unless you’re part of the most selective colleges in the country (which amount to less than 100), keeping students at your university is not a guarantee.
Your university probably offers many ways to keep students engaged until they graduate. Maybe you have a first-year experience program for freshman, or you require students to stay in a dorm their first year so they can make friends and get to know the campus. Your university probably offers clubs, events, and a variety of resources for academic support. You’ve got world-renowned faculty, research that impacts the world, and a collaborative community. Oh, and your library has some really cool things that no one knows about.
You work really hard to keep students on campus. But how do students find out about everything you have to offer?
They’ll go to the single most important resource you have: your website. Your website gives current students everything they need—and everything they’ll potentially get excited about (like the new sandwich shop at the library). Or maybe it’s how they’ll find out about new, insightful research about urban planning conducted by a professor.
To create a website that is truly engaging with easy-to-find information for students, you need to have the right design, user experience, and content strategy.
5 Examples of Things Students are Looking For
1. Keep first-year students excited about their school
You got them there. Now you have to keep them. The website should be easy to navigate. For example, is it easy to figure out how to get involved with student organizations?
It’s less appealing to transfer or drop out if you make friends and feel a part of a community. Western Michigan University makes it very easy for first-year students to find the more than 400 student organizations to join.
2. Make it easy to find degree programs
Your degree programs should be very clear and easy to find for both prospective students and current students. For example, the University of Chicago graduate school lays out their website in a way that is easy for the user to use. UChicagoGrad has a giant, extremely well-organized hub of information and resources for students that exists in one place.
Under admissions, you can find a database of 101 graduate programs. When you click on each of the programs, you get in-depth information about each one.
Why does it matter to make degrees easy to find and understand?
When you make it easy for students to find what they want to study, they can read about it and see their dreams playing out at your university. A student might say, “This is exactly what I’m looking to study. I’m going to be a chemical engineer.” This type of emotional engagement then makes your university part of who they are and one of the biggest positive experiences in their lives. Your university becomes theirs.
3. Provide information for students to find resources for academic help
Having a place where students can go to find academic help is huge. When you make it clear to students that you’ll support them throughout their academic journey, students will feel like you care.
UChicagoGrad gives students resources they need for success. For example, at the graduate level, getting public speaking experience is important. To give students some help, UChicagoGrad has a program called GRADTalk. Students can easily find this under “academic support” in the top navigation.
4. Communicate financial wellness information
Your website should have all of the resources possible to help students afford their education. Fellowships and student employment resources should be easy to find.
It also helps if you have resources for how students can manage their finances while attending college. Let students know that you understand how big of an investment it is to get a college education—be very open about the cost of attending and how you can help students afford college.
5. Encourage career development
Students get degrees to graduate and have a rewarding career. To do that, they need to understand how to start their professional journey. You can help them with a clear understanding of where to find career development opportunities.
UChicagoGRAD makes it very clear where to find those resources. Some schools do not make career development resources as clear as they should. UChicagoGRAD does. Right on the homepage you see a section for “career development.”
What Does Your University Represent?
In addition to making a website that is easy to navigate and helping current students find everything they are looking for, you need to clearly communicate what your university is all about.
Make sure not only current students, but prospective and alumni also feel proud about where they might go to school or where they went to school.
Part of creating a vision for students to see themselves be with your university throughout their journey involves website design that is modern and feels like you but does not distract the user from the content.
An example of a website that provides this type of experience comes from Northwestern Bienen School of Music.
The design of the website shows the prestige and beauty of the school without distracting users from what they need to know about the school, its events, and its happenings.
If you read one section from this article…
You do a lot to keep students on campus. Your university offers countless organizations and majors, has top ranked programs, helps students with financial aid. It has all of the resources to keep students on campus—right there—you just need a place that acts as an easy-to-use, single source of truth for your students.
That place is your website.