New website exudes professionalism

By Editorial Board

As part of the advertising campaign spearheaded by the college to rebrand itself, Columbia launched a new website Sept. 10—just in time for when high school seniors and transfer students are zeroing in on which colleges to apply to, as reported Sept. 15 by The Chronicle.

The college hired Boston-based web design firm iFactory in Spring 2013 to conduct research on how the college’s website could be redesigned to attract prospective students, said Stan Wearden, senior vice president and provost. Wearden said the website was in need of an update to better reflect the student body’s creativity and allow potential students to communicate more efficiently with the institution.

At a time of declining enrollment and financial instability, the new website is a smart marketing move to attract more students despite its faults, which can sometimes make it cumbersome to maneuver.

For example, when potential students try to research majors at Columbia, sometimes suggested resources can be confusing and appear random. For example, if a student clicks the actor career option, a biology minor is among the suggested courses of study.

Although these are obvious hiccups, the website needs roughly two more years of work, said Mary Forde, assistant vice president of Creative Services. This likely contributes to the difficulty of accessing certain information, and the errors will likely be worked out in time.

Despite the glitches, the new site is an investment that will pay off. A March 2014 report from the higher education consulting firm Noel-Levitz, which surveyed 1,000 college-bound high school seniors, found a college’s website was the most influential recruitment resource, with 77 percent of students using the college’s online presence as a determining factor in their decision to attend a school. College websites are also students’ most reliable source of information, with 97 percent of respondents citing a college’s website as where they received trusted information about the institution. The study also found that 71 percent of the students looked at their prospective college’s website on a mobile device, a useful capability Columbia developed for its new site. This is clearly where future students are beginning their college search, and the administration is addressing this by making it more eye–appealing for today’s generation of visually oriented, tech-savvy college students.

As Columbia increases selectivity in admissions, a new website also improves perceptions of the college’s relevance and professionalism. In the past, Columbia has been known for its high acceptance rate—91 percent of applicants were admitted in 2012. In an effort to appeal to a more select group of students, the way Columbia presents itself is essential. The bold visuals and modern layout will resonate with the creative students Columbia wants to attract.

Columbia’s branding will also connect with college-bound seniors who may be hesitant to enter the liberal arts field. In recent years, the value of a liberal arts degree has come under attack, according to a Nov. 19, 2012, Inside Higher Ed article. When searching the Web, one can find plenty of articles questioning the value of liberal art degrees, especially since the onslaught of the economic recession in 2008. The new website attempts to ease this uncertainty by boldly displaying the careers associated with programs and featuring inspiring phrases such as “Live what you love” and “Create your career.” The college website inspires students to pursue their creative dreams, which appeals to high school seniors who are uncertain about the higher education path they want to take.

Overall, the new website improves the college’s image and its ability to compete. This not only draws more selective students to the institution but also allows current students who can show off their college with pride.