It is critical that any reworking of your unit’s website begin by talking to your audiences about what they want from your website. Yes audiences, plural. In higher education, we tend to think of students as our only audience. While we are right to put students’ needs first, we must not ignore other key audiences—or important differences among students.
Content Considerations for Academic Departments
Much of the content on academic department websites describes the department’s curriculum and disciplinary approach. Prospective students, and all audiences, absolutely need to understand what the learning is all about.
However, it is also true that busy students’ lives are all about efficiently finding the day-to-day information they need to be successful learners—something our best prospective students, and faculty, should be looking for evidence of, too.
Current students visit department websites on an ongoing basis seeking basic information like:
- office hours/locations
- contact information
- special events/opportunities
Addressing the day-to-day needs of the students already here is key to improving retention rates, as well as how students feel (and talk) about your unit and the university.
Prospective Students (and Parents)
High school students say the quality of university websites impacts their decision to enroll or not. When they research an institution, the academic program they want to pursue tops the list of websites to visit. That website is your department’s website. To them, your department’s website is the University of Michigan-Flint. They make judgments about the quality of the academic program, and the entire institution, based on that web experience.
It may be tempting, then, to think that more information, more accolades, and more ‘dynamic’ content would be more impressive to those students. The adage is true: more is not always better. Helping all students easily find what they came for makes for a better experience. And better experience = better impression.
Prospective students (and their parents) need to know about your unit’s:
- academic approach
- academic record
- outstanding faculty
- course offerings
- research opportunities
- internship opportunities
- engaged learning opportunities
- post-graduation outcomes
Prospective and Visiting Faculty
Potential faculty members are an audience that is not as top-of-mind as potential students, but the way they research and make determinations about institutions of higher learning are nearly identical.
Fellow scholars who come to UM-Flint as visiting professors, conference presenters or attendees, and even Critical Issues Forum speakers also visit department websites to take the pulse of academic discourse on the UM-Flint campus.
Prospective and visiting faculty seek information about:
- research funding
- community/industry partners
- research facilities and equipment
- faculty research/scholarship
- cross-disciplinary opportunities
- strategic direction/emphasis
- use of technology on campus
- governance structures
Alumni and Potential Donors
UM-Flint Alumni say they feel as connected to their academic unit as they do the university. The relationships our faculty form with students can take credit for that sense of connection. Alums may want to stay connected by learning what faculty members are researching, reading, writing, and assigning. They may want to know if there are department-sponsored events they can attend.
Our most enthusiastic and generous donors are UM-Flint Alumni. One way to keep the conversation with graduates going is by highlighting your department’s strategic plans for the future. Maybe those plans include enriching learning experiences with projects requiring travel, new equipment, or other resources alumni/donors could help fund.
Alumni and potential donors seek information about:
- current curriculum
- events open to the public
- strategic direction/emphasis
- what faculty are doing
- what students are doing
- what fellow alums are doing
- specific giving opportunities
UM-Flint academic departments should embrace opportunities to share their educational experience with communities near and far. It is through channels like National Public Radio, print and online publications, local television news, Twitter, and new media outlets everyday where wider perceptions of the UM-Flint educational experience first form.
There are two main reasons members of the media may explore your department’s website:
- They are seeking expert analysis of some current event or trend.
- They are seeking interesting, innovative, and societally meaningful research, creative projects, and events to profile—as well as the people behind them.