We set out to make it easier to pick a major, and ended up sparking widespread change in our school’s digital communication.
Choosing a college is a huge undertaking, not to mention choosing a major. We subject high schoolers to an array of tests to help them choose a career. That gets confusing fast. But what if it could be much simpler?
After 3 years of research, coordination, and building buy-in, the Academic Exploration Tool came to life. Here’s our story.
Where We Began: Outmoded & Outdated
Our storied and accomplished academic programs and colleges were growing, but the way students choose majors hadn’t changed since the early 1980’s. They walked into a lobby, grabbed a major sheet off a carousel and took home piles of papers.
Over the years, we took this model and essentially replicated it on the web with PDFs that were static, bland, and seldom updated. The system was clunky, difficult to maintain, and painful to share, search, index, brand, and communicate. We knew there was a better way.
In 2011, we migrated our primary sites to Drupal 6, so we knew the power of a database-driven web CMS, but we didn’t know how to present the majors effectively. Over the next 5 years, we evaluated options, and developed a vision. The team at Up&Up saw the potential in our idea and presented a solution that exceeded our expectations and expanded our original vision. That solution became the AET.
The custom, searchable, and scalable platform helped us simplify how we presented our academic program information. We now have a central portal for searching degree programs which holds over 300 pages, and can be easily edited by colleges & departments across the enterprise.
Where We Are Today: Clean & Collaborative
Now, when a student wants to explore our majors, they start with: “I like to…” or “I want to be a…”
As of now, we’ve onboarded over 50 college & department users, and created dynamic pages for undergraduate majors, minors, and pre-professional programs. One of the most encouraging parts to see is the incredible ownership programs have taken over their content, editing content, adding keywords, images, and incorporating AET into their communication plans via our CRM efforts.
Soon, our Student Information System (run on SAP) will feed curriculum information for each program onto each pages, so students can see what courses they would be taking, with detail down to the course description.
Our Career Center is using AET to tie major choice to career exploration. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics information, students are able to see their earning potential in different career paths. It’s so rewarding to see the “light bulb” go off as they connect their major to a fulfilling career.
Where We’re Going: Setting the Standard
As we look at the landscape of academic exploration, we’re setting the standard for taking a many-layered process and simplifying it for the user and content creator.
Who else could use a tool like this? Student organizations are on our radar—with that piece in place, we can offer a 360-degree view of campus life for prospective and current students.
Now that we have consistent academic content, we can plug it into recruitment campaigns, enabling us to better recruit and onboard prospective students. We’re using retargeting to show students program pages across the website, keeping their direction in front of them.
We’re excited to see how scaling this platform across UK will continue to make a difference in how we communicate the student lifecycle.
Our campus culture of digital communication is changing from the ground up, and we’re just getting started.
About The Author
Tyler Gayheart is the Director of Communication and Technology at the University of Kentucky, where his team focuses on integrating technology, web, digital and strategic communication for both prospective and current students. Tyler is a current PhD student in the College of Communication and has research interest in digital marketing and communication.