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Kennebec Valley Community College’s (KVCC) Dean of Student Affairs, Karen Normandin, cohosted a December 2016 webinar with Collegis Education’s Director of Student Experience Paul Kramer. The two were responsible for driving the collaboration that helped KVCC reverse three years of slumping enrollment. By addressing core issues that make a difference to prospective students, KVCC turned its enrollment around. In part one of this two-part series, we detailed how a change in culture served as a catalyst for attracting more students to KVCC. In this installment, we’ll show how optimizing KVCC’s website experience and upgrading the performance of digital admissions tools enhanced the school’s ability to attract and enroll students.
Note: Collegis Education did not have hands-on involvement in the design or development of the digital tools mentioned below, but did provide business-process-redesign consulting that led KVCC to update its digital admissions tools. Because Collegis Education approaches enrollment as a system that includes admissions, marketing and technology, we think the work featured below offers an excellent example of how a college can provide a student-centric experience. All of the tools below work in support of the cultural and communications work that was featured in our initial webinar with KVCC. We would underscore that no one tool, whether on the cultural, communications or digital side, would be as effective without the support of the others.
Optimizing and Upgrading Digital Experiences
As is the case with many colleges and universities, when Collegis Education began working with KVCC, the college had grown accustomed to only minimal marketing efforts, and its website had not been optimized for trends in online use. An audit of online tools and analytics done for KVCC through Collegis Education’s business process redesign services led Collegis Education to make the following recommendations.
Website Enhancements to Improve User Experience:
- Align content with target audience’s interests
- Provide user-friendly navigation
- Integrate approachability into the site’s design
- Include a mobile-friendly layout
- Include mobile-friendly admissions forms
Below is how KVCC brought the recommendations to life.
Content Aligned with Audience Interests
One building block of an effective website is to have an organization’s content aligned with its target audience’s interests. In order to ensure that KVCC was aligned with prospective student interests, the team looked at the most frequently appearing search terms both on KVCC’s website and across the industry. Information that corresponded to those terms, such as the cost of attending KVCC, was given more prominence on the website’s home page and admissions page.
Next, the team wanted to make it easy for prospective students to request information without having to hunt for contact information. A “Request More Info” button was added to the right side of both the home page and the admissions page. Its bright, contrasting color makes the button stand out while its shape and prominence communicate to viewers that answers are only a click away.
Once the student clicks the button, they are invited to submit basic contact info and a few details about their age and program of interest. An admissions counselor is then alerted so they may respond.
Approachability Integrated into Design
From the admissions page menu, there is an option to click through to the guidance-counseling page. The answers to frequently asked questions are located here, as well as an option to complete a simple, two-field form in order to request more information. This feature supports the KVCC staff’s commitment to being available and approachable, and acting as good listeners.
KVCC strives to communicate that staff are invested in each prospective student’s goals with the understanding that those goals are likely to vary from student to student. Such improvements to student engagement at critical touch points and the adoption of a student-first mindset were designed to alleviate the applicant’s anxiety about the school-selection process.
The fact that these features show up so well on the mobile interface amplifies their power. According to Google’s Q3 2016 higher education search report, mobile searches increased 14 percent year-over-year, while desktop/tablet searches declined -8 percent.
All Thumbs? No Problem (Mobile)
To ensure KVCC’s website was mobile-friendly, Collegis Education configured web pages to adapt to the size of the user’s screen, whether they are using a mobile, tablet or desktop device. On a mobile device, one-thumb scrolling is all that’s needed to browse through the site’s menus. Each menu item is in a font that is large enough for most to easily read and is sized to make it simple for even clumsy fingers to click through to the desired page.
Mobile-Friendly Admissions Forms
Furthermore, frequently searched information is prominently displayed at the top of the menu. Options to “Contact Admissions” or “Request More Info” are conveniently located at the bottom of the scroll bar. Contrasting colors make the options eye-catching. Both fields click through to short forms into which the prospect can enter contact information straight from a mobile phone.
Prospective students can even begin filling in an application from a mobile phone, with an option to save their work and log in later to complete the process. For prospective students, the seamless interface that connects every point of their journey makes the experience user-friendly. Not a bad way to introduce a prospective student to what it might be like to be a student at KVCC.
Results: A Return to Growth
After several years of declining enrollment, KVCC was able to maintain 2015 growth with the help of the above changes and a campus-wide initiative to train staff on how to give prospective students the help they seek. Success for KVCC was determined by a number of metrics, including an increase in application-to-start rates and a decrease in the summer melt of enrollment leads. Normandin says that such growth and stability were KVCC’s primary goals.
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