Interactive campus maps could mean big bucks for colleges

Fifty-two percent of prospective college students said they had viewed a school’s website on a mobile device in 2011—more than double the percentage from 2010. And 48 percent of those students said the mobile site experience bettered their view of the campus.

“Colleges and universities would be wise to use these types of mapping services as ancillary options for previewing or reviewing a campus in conjunction with the actual campus visit,” said Drew Bowling, a writer for WebProNews who has tracked Google’s foray into 360-degree campus maps. “[Campus maps] could prove to be a great cost-saver when the only other option for re-visiting a campus is to physically go there.”

Detailed, interactive campus maps might be best left off a college’s website if the campus surroundings are less than aesthetically pleasing, Bowling said.

“Some colleges might not want to include the campus map if they happen to be self-aware enough to know that their campus isn’t a treat for the eyes,” he said. “If I think a campus looks ugly by using Google Maps, I will likely only presume that it looks like double-crap in real life.”

James, CEO of nuCloud, a company that makes interactive maps, said interactive campus maps can be a waste of IT staffers’ time and university money if built improperly. Some colleges and universities use Flash to animate their campus maps, making the maps difficult or impossible to access for many website visitors.

Overloading the campus map with graphics and slowing down load speeds will test the patience of prospective students—a risky proposition for a generation accustomed to high-speed internet connections, James said.

Campus maps with a laundry list of options—libraries, laboratories, stadiums, dormitories, and more—on the front page can drive away prospective students after just a few seconds of visiting the site. And a map homepage with a unique layout that doesn’t fit the mold of familiar platforms like Google Maps or Mapquest could confuse visitors, James said.

“Don’t go with a novel idea that’s completely different, because no one will be able to use it,” he said.

Advanced interactive campus maps and escalating gas prices won’t spell the end of traditional campus tours. Higher education, James said, is too large an investment to rely on a web-based tour.

“I do think it’ll play a big role there, but I don’t see it ever completely replacing [the traditional tour],” he said. “Parents are not going to spend tens of thousands of dollars without visiting the school first.”

Denny Carter

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