Why WordPress can be the right CMS for #highered websites

February 15th, 2011 Karine Joly 12 Comments

In higher education, the CMS question is a million-dollar one.

Well, maybe not literally, although choosing the wrong Web content management system can result in costs and ineffencies worth millions of dollars.

WordPress logoA CMS that isn’t used by content contributors across campus doesn’t do any good to an insitution, which explains why ease-of-use is often at the top of the requirement lists for this type of applications.

Add to that a price tag tough to beat (free), and it’s no wonder WordPress has started to power more and more websites in higher education: online newsrooms, departemental websites, online versions of the institutional or alum magazines, email newsletters and even institutional websites.

While WordPress is easy to use and a very affordable solution, it doesn’t mean that there’s no room for messing things up. As with any flexible and powerful open-source application, there is no official user manual to explain how to use WordPress to power institutional websites.

But, you can definitely learn it by trial and error or by listening to other higher ed professionals who have already done it.

Mike Richwalsky from John Carroll University will present the first session of WordPress University, a 3-webinar series on strategies, tools and shortcuts for WordPress-based higher ed websites (March 22-24, 2011).

That’s why I asked Mike – who is currently in the middle of an institutional-wide WordPress implementation – to share some of his experience with us.

1) How long have you been using WordPress? When and why did you fall in love with this application?

Mike Richwalsky

I’ve been into WordPress for a little over three years now. For years before that, I had been a big Movable Type fan. We used it at my last institution for many years and as a blogging tool, it was great. Being written in PHP, as opposed to Movable Type’s PERL structure, I found I could hack WordPress much faster and easier. That fact, coupled with the very large community of WordPress plugin, support and theme designers, make it a very robust platform that’s only growing.

2) In your opinion, why is WordPress a good fit for higher education – in comparison to commercial or other open source CMS?

I want to be careful that I don’t slag commercial or other CMSes. It’s all about the right fit for the job – and for me at two institutions now, Allegheny College and John Carroll University, WordPress has been the right fit. It’s simple to maintain yet powerful – especially given the fact you can easily extend the platform with plugins and other PHP you can write.

In our CMS evaluation last year, the thing that really resonated with us, and especially our users, is that WordPress is very simple to use. Our users have technical abilities ranging from very, very savvy to folks who probably shouldn’t be using a computer. During our tests, WordPress was one of the easiest for them to use quickly, and they had good retention of the product after not having used it for a few weeks.

3) You will share best practices and tips on how to use WP to power an institution’s website, can you share a couple of don’t’s?

Double negative alert – Don’t not let your WordPress and plugins go un-updated. When there have been security issues with the platform in the past, an exploit is found in an old version and then attacked. WordPress, out of the box, broadcasts its version so it can be easy for bad people to attack your installation.

In the webinar next month, I’ll share more do and don’ts when it comes to giving users access to varying levels of the site, including the ability to change themes, add plugins and more.