As a newly selected college president, you may view your pending move in traditional terms — relocating to a new city, occupying a new office or executive residence and joining a new campus culture.
You’re also inheriting a .edu web address that can help accelerate or impede your best laid presidential plans.
Here’s a field guide for new or aspiring presidents that’s designed to help you read between the lines — code and content — and better understand the power and perils of your new .edu.
Your college or university website should have one unquestioned priority — generating reliable and repeatable revenue.
KPI: Is the website converting right-fit enrollment prospects, engaging alumni, attracting strategic partners and inspiring donors?
Quick Check: How quickly does the site experience connect diverse enrollment audiences with the academic program, admissions and financial aid essentials? Can prospective full-time undergraduates, doctoral students, international applicants and non-traditional military prospects all easily find their lane? Are calls to actions (visit, inquire, apply) persistent — on both the desktop and mobile experience? Is it easy to share program pages, blog posts, faculty profiles and other proof points via social buttons?
While you can find plenty of insights on brand from marketing gurus and corporate CEOs, I like what Sister Jeanne Knoerle, S.P, President of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, (1968-1983) said about reputation as it relates to mission-driven colleges. “The identity of an institution lies, not in what anyone says of it from time to time, but in what everyone does about it every day.” That’s as good a definition of brand as any.
KPI: Do first-time visitors (rising high school juniors and seniors and parents) cobble together loose impressions (tour guide, costs, upkeep of grounds, dorm size) or do they arrive on campus and leave with a larger sense of what the college stands for and why it matters?
Quick Check: Click from home page, to the about router, to student life, alumni, academics and back to home. Is the school’s brand position clear? Has the essence of the institution – the true self – been given a full-throated articulation. Beyond a logo or tag line, do you hear a strong brand voice across various messages, stories and videos that define a shared identity, purpose and greater good?
Despite the tsunami of information available to your stakeholders, it’s often difficult to learn what’s essential. As St. Olaf President David Anderson says: “Having a compelling account of the value of the experience a college offers, relative to its cost, is among the institution’s most critical tasks.”
KPI: Is there a concerted effort between Institutional Research, Career Office, Dean of Students, and Alumni Affairs to share a detailed accounting of outcomes?
Quick Check: How willing is your new college to share retention and four-year graduation rates, average student indebtedness, and detailed first destination employment data? Does the website elevate and contextualize NSSE Student Engagement Indicators and High-Impact Practice data? Does the website give first-generation prospects and families full consideration, helping them connect the information dots and make an informed decision?
Too often, new college presidents define too narrowly the actual impact and reach of their bully pulpit. Content, in the age of the search engine, carries strategic importance far beyond the inaugural address or message from the president’s column.
KPI: In the course of your search and interview process, did anyone raise the matter of strategic content planning and its importance to future strategic plans, capital campaigns, corporate and foundation partners, faculty attraction and retention, and reputation?
Quick Check: Imagine you are the investment banker who will hear your college’s pitch for a proposed issue of AA-rated bonds for a major capital investment. Or the program officer from a national foundation looking for education partners to raise data literacy among first-generation undergraduates. What are the chances that they will have stumbled upon faculty research, centers of excellence speakers, student innovations or other core accomplishments in their daily news and Google searches? Content, in the digital age, is one of the currencies that a president can use to attract partners, investment and talent.