The shrinking screen of e-expectations

Stephanie Geyer

July 12, 2011

As more prospective college students browse college Web sites on smart phones, colleges and universities need to provide a good mobile experience.
More and more prospective college students are checking out campus Web sites on mobile devices.

Our E-expectations research project has covered a lot of ground over the past six years. We’ve asked high school juniors, seniors, parents, transfer students, and graduate students to tell us more about how they use the Internet to facilitate their college/university research process. Our latest study includes the perspectives of both high school seniors who are planning to attend college and their parents.

When we started this project in 2005, the concept was largely focused on a prospective student (or decision influencer, like a family member or guidance counselors) sitting in front of a desktop or laptop personal computer. In the age of nearly ubiquitous WiFi and mobile devices like the iPhone and now iPad, the times and places and ways in which users can connect with your institution’s online resources have increased exponentially.

Here are some new college search or engagement scenarios that have emerged as mobile technology has advanced:

  • At the water cooler, Mom learns of a school that has just the program her son is seeking. She finds the Web site for the school during her lunch break at work and sends him an e-mail with the link. He’s checking his messages on his mobile phone while waiting for soccer practice to begin, clicks on the link to check out the site.
  • High school junior has just started using Facebook. Checking out her friend’s profiles, she sees that one of her best friends “likes” a university that she hasn’t heard of. She clicks the link to that school’s Facebook page and then “likes” it, too. Now she’s seeing regular updates from that school each time she checks Facebook on her laptop (which can be several times a day).
  • A college sophomore is visiting a high school buddy’s campus and notices that some of the buildings have those funny QR codes on placards near the entrance. He scans the code with his mobile device and views a quick video about what happens inside the building and a little more about the campus facilities.

In each of these fictional scenarios, we can imagine a variety of outcomes from each encounter. Did the soccer player experience a mobile-optimized Web site for the school that allowed him to quick search for program availability and detail? Could he find his way easily to a form, e-mail link, or other method to ask questions about the program and enrollment? Or was the school’s Web site condensed into a tiny replica forcing the student to pinch and flick his way through to figure out what links he might want to explore?

How often are students visiting college sites on a mobile device? In our current study we learned that 82 percent of students have mobile phones and 14 percent of those students have viewed a college or university site using a mobile device. While those numbers are certainly not enormous, they will most certainly continue to grow in the coming years.

What about our Facebook user? After she “liked” the school did she see updates that engaged her directly as a prospect? Was she able to pose questions and receive prompt replies? Were the posts from a variety of people across campus or just from a nameless, faceless logo? Our newest data show that 80 percent of our respondents have a Facebook account and 27 percent of these students have accessed at least one college or university page, with 15 percent reporting that they have posted a comment or asked a question. Again, a sizeable minority of students are using Facebook to investigate and interact with colleges.

Did the visiting student’s experience with the QR code and video raise any questions that might lead him to consider a transfer? Was there a way to move easily from the video experience into an engagement opportunity with the admissions office? Just 15 percent of the students surveyed were aware of these resources with 6 percent of this group reporting that they have used them to view college or university-specific content.

The results from the 2011 study are in and we’re excited to share them with you during conferences, Webcasts and even on your own campus. E-mail me your questions, get details on our next E-Expectations presentation or to set up a one-on-one review of the data.

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