Last week Noel-Levitz released an E-Expectations Trend Report on the Mobile Browsing Behaviors and Expectations of College-Bound High School Students. Produced with research partners OmniUpdate, CollegeWeek Live and NRCUA, the study surveyed nearly 2,300 college-bound students and found a whopping 52% have viewed a school’s website on a mobile device before.
The study also found, surprisingly, at least to me, that just 4% of the 94% of students who use a mobile device reported looking at college websites on an iPad or Android tablet.
What were the students looking for? The following six items topped the list of wants by those surveyed.
- Academic program listing
- Cost/scholarship calculators
- A calendar of important dates and deadlines
- Specific details about academic programs
- An application process summary
- Online application forms
When you look at this list, as well as that stat of a staggering 52% of college-bound high school students looking at our websites via mobile device, it’s hard to ignore that there is real demand from prospective students for valuable mobile-friendly admissions information. Yet when they come to our mobile sites what do they actually find?
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.
What does this all mean?
Higher ed has missed the mark with mobile.
Just like the college and university website, our mobile offerings need to be approached as recruitment tools and provide prospective students with the information they are looking for, when they’re looking for it, on the device they are using to look. This isn’t to say we must abandon our current campus community at all, but we must find a way – just like with our traditional websites – to strike the balance and not sacrifice recruiting efforts for the sake of pushing features that are only valuable to folks living within a few square miles of campus.
While there are some examples today of institutions with admissions-focused mobile websites, and even a few examples of institutions taking applications via a mobile device, a quick comb through the Mobile in Higher Ed Directory failed to bring up a single example that appeared, IMHO, to accurately and fully strike this balance between recruitment tool and campus community tool.
So what actually happens when we fail to deliver the information prospective students want in a mobile-friendly format? For now, not much. Just 2% of survey respondents said mobile site experience negatively affected their opinion of a school. But when past surveys have shown 20-25% of prospective students have dropped a school from their list due to a bad experience on their website, we have to ask, is it only a matter of time before a bad mobile website experience will get you dropped from a prospective student’s list?
For now, perhaps, our current campus-focused offerings are enough to impress prospects. For those looking for more concrete admissions information, they’re likely content hopping on a home or school computer to delve deeper into the college search process. But to think these expectations won’t change with time as technology evolves and continues to saturate the market is naive, at best.
The fact is that the data is in. Prospective students want an admission-focused mobile experience. As an industry, we have failed to deliver this. They’re understanding, for now, but the future is much less certain.
So what will it be?
Are we going to sit on our hands and wait for more data, or should we rethink, readjust and potentially pivot our entire approach to mobile in higher education?