#highered Mobile Solutions: Hitting or Missing the Admissions Target?

February 27th, 2012 Karine Joly 5 Comments

That’s a question I’ve been working on for a few weeks, ever since the latest Noel-Levitz report (PDF) on the mobile behaviors and expectations of prospective students finally provided us with some hard data on the most valuable pieces of content for this target audience.

In a follow-up post arguing for an Admission-First approach for mobile in higher education, Seth Odell declared that “higher ed has missed the mark with mobile.”

Here’s how Seth came to this conclusion:

“For the last few years higher education has been largely designing mobile sites with one audience in mind – the campus community. A quick look through the Higher Ed Mobile Directory shows the vast majority of institution’s mobile sites touting bus schedules, campus directories, news, athletics updates and class information for current students. Nowhere to be found are the above mentioned requests that college-bound students are asking for right now.”

At the time of the posting, I argued that many institutions were indeed targeting prospective students and I had the data to prove it, namely the results of my survey on the Mobile Web in higher ed. Seth replied that the discrepancies between my data and his observations probably meant that there were a difference between the intentions and the behaviors (which is NOT uncommon) of institutions when it comes to admissions-related mobile content.

Since I had data on the mobile goals of my survey respondents as well as their mobile solution addresses, I decided to find out how mobile solutions targeting prospective students for recruitment purposes were actually performing against the new gold standard provided by the Noel-Levitz research, the 6 items considered as the most valuable content for mobile experiences by college-bound high school students.

According to the 2012 State of the Mobile Web in Higher Ed, 73% of the existing mobile solutions are said to target prospective students and 46% identified as student recruitment tools.

After I queried the survey data for the records with student recruitment as a goal but also with an identified mobile address, I ended up with a sample of 49 records. Then, I spent 3 to 4 hours reviewing and analyzing this sample with a matrix including the Noel-Levitz top 6 most valuable content items for prospective students.

So, without further ado, here are some of my research findings:

1) There’s definitely a difference between what institutions say and what they do when it comes to mobile solutions – but it’s not day and night.
Depending on the item, 35% to 60% of the analyzed sample provides the expected piece of information and 43% meets at least 5 of the 6 criteria.

  • 60% for academic program listing
  • 35% for cost/scholarship calculators
  • 43% for a calendar of important dates and deadlines
  • 53% for specific details about academic programs
  • 47% for an application process summary
  • 43% for online application forms

2) A quarter of the sample is doing a really great job meeting the Noel-Levitz gold standard for admissions content.
26% of the mobile solutions I reviewed are hitting all the right points, offering either a dedicated or an integrated mobile experience to prospective students. I will share in a future post or report more details about this cream of the crop along with some best practices.

3) The most commonly represented vendor mobile solutions in this sample ignore prospective students and focus almost exclusively on current students.
It looks like the biggest vendors don’t see the point in addressing the needs of students before they matriculate. A lot could be achieved if these vendors were to understand that prospective students are also an important target audience for institutions (hint, hint, Blackboard Central ;-)

4) Dedicated mobile solutions such as micro mobile sites or application require care and maintenance that they don’t always get.
I came across lots of broken links – especially in the case of academic program details. It would not hurt to schedule a regular check-up for your mobile solution.

As I said earlier, I’m planning to write a follow-up post on best practices in mobile solutions targeting prospective students. So, if you have one you are really proud of and didn’t get a chance to complete my survey, please post a link to it below. I will be happy to review it for consideration for my next post about top admissions mobile solutions in higher education.

Higher Ed Mobile SummitHigher Ed Mobile Summit: Winning Strategies, Top Trends and Practical Solutions
March 13, 14 & 15, 2012 (1PM – 2PM ET)

5 Responses

  1. Hi Karine –
    Agreed: Most larger vendor mobile solutions do not adequately address the needs of prospective students. My company is a smaller vendor who focuses only on the needs of prospective students in the mobile space. A sample of our clients’ sites:

    Undergraduate admissions focus:

    Graduate focus:

    If you are interested, I’d gladly share the analytics with you for these various sites. In general, academics, about, and financial aid are the most frequented pages. The majority of visits to these mobile sites are ‘new visitors’ which is a great way to make a good first impression.

  2. Doug says:

    Great analysis of data, Karine. The number of institutions meeting the gold standard are much higher than I would have expected. I’d consider a silver category for people covering 4-5 of the bases and I’m hoping you’ll publish that number!

    We partnered with Trinity College in Hartford last year on their custom site. This was before the Noel-Levitz data was released, but I think we did a pretty good job of covering the bases for prospective students.


    program listing: http://bit.ly/xbwT9A

    tuition: http://bit.ly/AdSfGT

    important dates and calendar: http://bit.ly/yN2Yjp

    majors and minors: http://bit.ly/yX8qXP

    application process and forms are linked to from here:
    They use common app, and they want students to read the process first. But mobile visitors would actually goes to commonapp’s mobile solution: https://m.commonapp.org/

  3. Cathy says:

    After looking at mobile apps–very expensive, we were extremely happy to go the way of mobile optimized through our CMS (Marqui out of Vancouver). Programs, our financial calculator and maps (prospective in mind) were all part of our initial offering.

    When we saw our current students were looking at student self serve and LMS (Desire 2 Learn) we provided a quick link for them, but because they are from other vendors, those pages aren’t mobile optimized.

    For an official web army of one, this solution has been great and our analytics are certainly showing that our mobile traffic continues to grow.

  4. Karine,

    You’ve put together another thought-provoking and insightful post – thanks!

    At Lake Forest College, we recently partnered with a local firm to produce an app directed mostly toward prospective students: http://www.lakeforest.edu/mobileapp. We’d love to hear any feedback from folks about it.

    Since our very recent launch, we’ve seen, albeit only anecdotally, that our alumni and current students want more content directed at them. During the development process, though, we saw some of the same trends among peer institutions you and Seth seem to have found.

  5. […] the post, the conversation continued with coverage in Inside Higher Ed, collegewebeditor, and other blogs, breaking down several key points of my argument, including the true state of […]

Got a question or comment?