As unique as small not-for-profit colleges can be, the challenges they face can be surprisingly similar. When we look at the websites of small colleges around the country, we see five common issues. If you work at a small college, do these sound familiar?

Issues facing small college websites:

  1. Your website does not provide a compelling reflection of your institution’s brand. You have a story to tell prospective students, but your site is getting in the way. The design is ugly and outdated, there is no photography, and templates do not allow for embedding video or social content.
  2. Your website is not mobile/tablet friendly. Prospective students are using mobile devices and tablets at a growing rate. Current estimates suggest 15 to 25 percent of higher education traffic comes from mobile phones and 5 percent from tablets. If your site doesn’t work well on these devices, you’re missing an opportunity to meet the information needs of these visitors – and, even worse, they’re forming a negative opinion of your institution.
  3. Your content is out of date due to inadequate or nonexistent tools and processes. You may rely on a freelancer or a vendor to make simple content updates instead of using a content management system. You don’t have the proper procedures and governance to ensure staff are working together to keep content relevant across all schools and departments. You are maintaining the same information in multiple places, which is time intensive and leads to mistakes.
  4. Your institution has limited financial and human resources dedicated to the website. Budgets are tight and there are no funds allocated to the website. Key staff members who work on your website have many other responsibilities.
  5. Your staff does not have the design or technical skills needed to maintain a site. Rightly so, your team is focused on marketing and communications — not web design or programming.

Any one of these problems can be addressed in isolation. However, the combined effect leads many institutions to get stuck.

So what options do small colleges have?

  • DIY. Most colleges do not have the skills to pull this off. Even if you have the skills, your staff likely will not be able to focus on a project of this size amidst all of their other duties. This is not a viable option for 99 percent of small colleges.
  • Hire a local designer. It’s relatively easy to find a qualified, cost-effective web designer who can design and implement a basic site for your college. The downside of this approach is what happens after launch. Are you prepared to support the site? Have you addressed the systemic issues that caused your content to get out-of-date in the first place?
  • Contract with a CMS vendor. There are a number of excellent commercial content management system (CMS) options on the market. But spending your limited funds to license a CMS means you likely will have a hard time affording a design partner to implement your site.
  • Send out an RFP. Larger institutions will typically put out a request for proposal (RFP) that outlines the services needed to design, implement and sustain a new site. This approach is too expensive for most small colleges, with professional fees commonly exceeding $300,000.

Not so great, right?

We’ve been wrestling with this challenge for a few years and now have an offering uniquely suited to help our small college client partners.

Here’s our small college solution:

  • It starts with a condensed version of our flagship strategy deliverable. Our web strategy is tailored to your institution and will provide a roadmap for how to make your brand sing and how to focus your limited resources on keeping your content fresh over the long haul.
  • We’ll then develop a responsive, mobile- and tablet-friendly design unique to your college, built on top of a predefined, flexible layout.
  • We’ll implement your new site in Buzzr Higher Ed, a simple CMS that focuses on ease-of-use for content contributors.
  • We’ll provide ongoing hosting, maintenance, and support services once the site is live.
  • All of the above is delivered at a fraction of the cost of a traditional website redesign project.

Learn more about mStoner’s small college offering powered by Buzzr Higher Ed.

Bill McLaughlin

AUTHOR - Bill McLaughlin

I've spent my career in project-based organizations large and small. I enjoy projects because I like variety, creative thinking and problem solving. At the core I'm a consultant, trying to find the best way forward for each unique client or situation. I don't always implement content management systems, but when I do, I prefer Drupal.

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