College admissions web sites found lacking

As the internet continues to play an increasingly important role in the college selection process, college admissions web sites aren’t keeping pace with prospective students’ expectations, according to a new report.

The report, from the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCCUA), suggests that colleges and universities might be missing out on prospective students, because their web sites are lacking certain key features.

NRCCUA, an organization connecting young people and their families with colleges and universities around the country, released its annual rankings of the admissions web sites of more than 3,000 postsecondary institutions earlier this month.

The group’s ninth annual Enrollment Power Index (EPI), a research-based analysis, rates how well the functionality and design of college and university web sites take potential students from prospects to applicants.

Of the 3,087 postsecondary institutions whose sites were graded, fewer than 30 percent earned “A” or “B” grades. The top 10 rated schools were: (1) Lawrence University, Wis.; (2) Pennsylvania College of Technology; (3) LeTourneau University, Texas; (4) University of New England, Maine; (5) Bellarmine University, Ky.; (6) Wayne State University, Mich.; (7) Gonzaga University, Wash.; (8) Saint Vincent College and Seminary, Pa.; (9) Lakeland College, Wis.; and (10) Newberry College, S.C.

“Today’s technically savvy generation of students has extremely high expectations when it comes to the amount and type of admissions information they find on university web sites,” said Don Munce, president of NRCCUA. “Meeting these expectations with quality, up-to-date web sites will help students better navigate the admissions process and ensure that colleges and universities are attracting students in the internet generation.”

Only 140 institutions received a grade of “A,” 713 received a “B,” 1,369 received a “C,” 635 a “D,” and 230 an “F.” No sites scored in the 90s or 80s on the index’s 100-point scale; only 16 scored in the 70s, and nearly one-third earned scores in the 50s or 60s. Scores for the top 10 schools ranged from 71 to 74 on the 100-point scale, a significant decrease from last year’s top scores of 78 to 82.

“Overall, approval ratings of college and university web sites have continued to decline over the last several years, indicating a level of dissatisfaction among today’s students,” said Munce. “To satisfy prospective students and encourage them to apply, college and university admissions offices need to continue updating and enhancing their web sites to keep them dynamic.”

EPI measures the ability of a college or university admissions web site to take a student from a prospect to an applicant. It provides a detailed analysis of trends and clear indicators of what institutions can do to improve the effectiveness of their sites.

To identify the web site features that have the most significant impact on a potential student’s perception of the site, and therefore the school, NRCCUA sent an eMail survey to more than 100,000 college-bound high school students asking them to rate two admissions web sites. Next, the group evaluated more than 3,000 sites to identify the functional features present on each site. Statistical tests then were used to identify the features that were important to students and their relative importance.

The study examined 34 different criteria, divided into five main categories: (1) prominence of an admissions office link on the institution’s home page (10.61 possible points); (2) admissions web page design and ease of navigation (23.25 possible points); (3) online access to admissions materials (13.42 possible points); (4) additional admissions information (38.97 possible points); and (5) ability to contact the admissions office online (13.75 possible points).

Because the technology used on college admissions web sites is constantly advancing and changing, so are the expectations of potential students regarding the type of information that will be available to them online. NRCCUA says its survey takes this into account, because the research criteria are updated, on a yearly basis, to reflect changes in technology and in students’ expectations. Certain features, such as a web-site search feature, have become standard, but not universal, and now carry less weight in the rating system.

This year’s research revealed three items that have become more critical to admissions web sites and are expected by potential students who use the sites:

1. Interactive functions, such as instant messaging and live online chat rooms, for students to communicate with admissions officers as they explore their college options.
2. The presence of information about the community or city where the college is located, and an online campus-visit date scheduler.
3. The ability to apply online, as well as track the application status online.

“Our in-depth and comprehensive research tells us that innovative admissions web sites are increasingly more important to students as they consider their college options,” said Ron Morris, NRCCUA’s director of admissions marketing research. “A small but growing number of institutions, for instance, are starting to incorporate text-message reminders, current student blogs, and interactive chat features into their admissions procedures.”

Adds Munce: “We hope that the EPI research will give institutions a benchmark of what students expect in the college admissions process, as well as ways to further develop and enhance their web sites.”


National Research Center for College and University Admissions Enrollment Power Index

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