Modern Colleges and the Web
A Look at the Brand New Pomona.edu
By Nicholas Rowe
Copy Editor, CMC ‘13
Pomona College launched a completely revamped version of its website on February 22.
The redesign was no easy task. The website had not been redesigned in eight years, almost an eternity in the world of constantly evolving Internet content and design trends. “It simply wasn’t up to today’s standards,” says Whitney Hengesbach, Pomona’s Administrative Web Manager. “We really wanted to redevelop its appearance and Pomona’s outward appearance.”
Such an undertaking required dedication and resources. The website had accumulated over 7,000 pages pertaining to the administration alone, and including associated files, the site had approximately 19,000 individual assets. Part of the redesign process required individually examining each of these assets, determining whether they were essential or not, and then integrating them into the redesign. For a number of years, the web maintenance team consisted of two staff members, too few to initiate a redesign. Hengesbach notes, “The fact that we’re doing this is because we’ve added a new person.
” The completely redone site took approximately a year to finish. According to Hengesbach, “It takes into account what we’ve learned from the previous site. The prospective student is a primary user, and we’ve taken that into account, especially on the home page.” The Office of Communications, in charge of the site, consulted Pomona’s Admissions Office to become more involved with and knowledgeable about the college and the students it hopes to attract. As a result, both the admissions page and the website in general are highly interactive. On the homepage, the user is greeted by five interactive window panes, each with an emphasis on informing prospective students about the college. One pane links to Pomona College Magazine, another touts rankings, and two have links to videos and blogs chronicling the accomplishments of Pomona faculty and students. A last pane with an interactive map of the college hypes up Pomona’s ideal location in Southern California – arrows point to Los Angeles, the mountains, beaches, and deserts, and the current temperature and weather forecast display clearly below. In an effort to incorporate social media, links lead prospective students to Pomona’s Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube accounts.
Pomona is not unique in redesigning its website to appeal to prospective students. “A website is the first impression of a college,” says Richard Rodner, Associate Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications at Claremont McKenna. “As you’re narrowing your search, you want to find out all about the school, about the faculty, about the students, about what student life is like. Websites are the first line of data information that people go to in the information age.”
CMC, unlike Pomona, did not completely redesign its website from the ground up. Instead, it added more interactivity and retouched some pieces of the site on the existing platform about a year ago. “We’re not yet up to par,” says Rodner, “but we’re getting there. When I came here, we went from mediocre to vast improvement, and now we need to go to ‘wow.’” Like Pomona, CMC added window panes linking to profiles of faculty and students as well as a virtual tour of the campus. “Feedback has been positive, but there are some gaps in our website,” Rodner admits. According to EDU Checkup, which rated cmc.edu a C-, the site still lacks in content management and general appearance. For comparison, Pomona’s pre-redesign site received an F-.
Despite the need for more effective websites to attract top students in the future, college websites must take into account unique considerations. “It’s not like a consumer website,” Rodner remarks. “One of the main purposes of a good college website is to attract the students we want to attract, but that’s not everything.” The website must speak not only to prospective students but also to current students, faculty, and alumni. Rodner identifies “a public part and a part that’s more internal to students and faculty.” Any good college website, therefore, must effectively balance these interests.
While Pomona has worked hard towards launching its redesigned site, CMC is currently in the process of taking suggestions from both focus groups and a branding firm brought in two to three years ago. While the individual colleges draw off each other for ideas, the process is not competitive; each has its own priorities and interests to reflect in a website. “Here at the Claremont Colleges,” Hengesbach says, we benefit from a fairly family-like atmosphere. I think our redesign can motivate one of the other colleges to think, ‘Wow! What’s going on here?’”