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Urgent: Today’s students need a digitally fluent school website

What do students want from schools? Better digital access. They want to be able to use their phones or tablets to take care of what they need to complete.

It hardly seems possible to get through an hour without using technology, let alone a day. We track our health with wearable wristbands, our smartphones are basically pocket-sized laptops capable of doing and finding what we need within seconds, and the majority of our communication channels have turned digital. Students can no longer remember the world before the technology revolution. Digital fluency isn’t optional for schools; it’s a must.

Across industries, companies are scrambling to keep up with the rapidly changing consumer tides—education isn’t immune to these changes. People are naturally gravitating toward businesses and schools whose brands speak to them in an innovative, clear way demonstrating the business understands the wants and needs of today’s students. Those who have held onto older ways of doing things feel the effects of change more than those who are listening and changing.

What do students want from schools? Better digital access. They want to be able to use their phones or tablets take care of what they need to complete from class assignments to managing their student financial aid.


Websites are one of your most important digital channels. It’s the place where current students go to find answers to their questions, prospective students go to determine if a school is right for them, and alumni go to catch up with what has been happening at the school.

It is also an area where your school will be judged by all those who visit it.

Just having a site isn’t enough. A school who fails to meet students’ digital expectations may be seen as inferior to a school who has developed their technological strategy.

For instance, in a 2016 Unit4 study, students gave their opinion on schools’ use of technology. 73 percent are dissatisfied with their school’s digital strategy. A third of U.S. students think less of their school based on their digital presence. Simply put, students expect more. They want the convenience technology brings to the rest of their lives in their school.

(Next page: Good digital characteristics; how to evaluate your site)

A good school site should:

  • Demonstrate its brand
  • Be easy to navigate
  • Show students a clear pathway to success
  • Highlight the best qualities of the school
  • Provide information visitors want to find

How to Evaluate Your Site

Pay close attention to your website’s analytics. Where are visitors going? How long are they staying? When do they leave? Are they finding where they want to go while they are there? The answers to these questions will help you understand how intuitive the navigation is. If visitors are bouncing from the site after just a couple seconds, chances are you need to revisit how the navigation is set up.

Consider how a person will experience your site for the first time and on repeated visits. What do they need to see the most, and how fast can they get there? What about if they aren’t on a laptop? The experience should be seamless across devices. 92 percent of Americans 18-29 years old own a smartphone. They will interact with your site from their phone. If it is frustrating, they will be frustrated with the school. The site needs a responsive design that will allow it to adapt to the size of any screen.

If you decide to make changes to the site, implement A/B testing to make sure the new design is improving on functionality and not just aesthetics. Also, make sure your website is ADA compliant.

The website isn’t the only way a student will digitally interact with your school. Apps, social media, and eCommerce sites for course materials or apparel are also connected. Branding across of platforms should be consistent, demonstrate your mission and speak to your school’s digital fluency. Each piece of the puzzle adds another layer of digital convenience for the students.

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