• Higher Education
A Switch to Finalsite from Open Source: A Case Study with Bethel College
Larry Bernstein

Despite the popularity of open source website solutions like Wordpress, Squarespace and others, there are a host of reasons why colleges and universities should choose a SaaS solution like Finalsite, but it boils down to one: Finalsite offers better solutions that can help higher education institutions reach their goals.

Bethel College, a Christian liberal arts college in Indiana that draws students from all around the world, switched from an open source solution, MODX, to Finalsite in August of 2018. Within a few months of making the change, there were a number of positive results.

bethel college homepage with two performers

"Finalsite played a role in increasing the number of people taking actions [scheduling a visit, applying to the college, and requesting information] we want them to take through the website," says Susan Miller, Director of Web Strategy at the school. 

Alumni engagement has also increased. Miller credits the website as it has, "provided more opportunities to connect with alumni and made it easier to register and attend events." 

A website is a university’s most important marketing tool, but for Bethel College, the task for updating and maintaining it fell to the school’s IT Team. Miller, who has been at Bethel College for more than four years, was hired into the Marketing & Communications Department to transform the website and make it more marketing and content driven. She quickly realized the open source website the college had did not make the grade. While the old site could do nearly everything the current site does, making changes was time consuming. Even making a minor change meant reaching out to IT and awaiting their actions. "This hindered what I could create, “ Miller shared.   

This is a common issue for users of open source websites. While colleges and universities may have the technical support in house, i.e. the IT department, managing the website is not their primary responsibility. Updating the website gets done when the technical person fits it in and not necessarily when the problem or need arises. In addition, staying on top of the various open source updates is also a time consuming process. 

The extra time not having to think about updates has been greatly appreciated by Miller. "I've been freed up to think about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or rewriting content and am not interrupted by technical challenges. I can now do a better job in regards to my other responsibilities." 

Something else that has helped free up Miller's time is the ability within Composer to schedule site content. "Previously, everything was manual so I couldn't schedule something to go on the site and then come off. Now, it happens seamlessly which improves the way we handle publicity, promote events, and remind students to fill out the FAFSA." 

Bethel uses Page Pops to encourage online giving. 

page pops on the bethel college giving page

While building a website can be frustrating, lengthy, and time-consuming, Miller says the design and deployment process with Finalsite was quite the opposite. Miller and her team met with Finalsite’s lead designer and project manager, went through several rounds of edits, and ultimately came up with a design that was just as Miller envisioned. "Since Finalsite is education-focused, they had a strong sense of what we needed to do and came up with helpful suggestions, and I was really impressed with how fast the process was."

Throughout the building of the site, adjustments were made. "We'd reach out to them and say this tool doesn't look right and other feedback and they did the same," says Miller. "It was a collaboration and not just here's a template and that's it." 

Inevitably, issues come up that need to be dealt with and sometimes there's a sense of urgency. Open source users receive little support. When bugs arise in the software or plug-ins don't work, users are left to their own devices to find a a work around or wait until open source rectifies. How long that will take – who knows? The IT Department has other high priority tasks. An open source bug involves potentially hours of work to determine if the bug needs to be solved by the third party plug-in, the open source team, or the IT Department building a work around. The Finalsite support team is committed to all clients’ websites whenever a need arises-and they take pride in having a 15-minute response time to critical support tickets. 

Regarding the customer service at Finalsite, Miller simply says, "It's been beyond my expectation. It feels very individual and personal, not as if we're just another school in their portfolio." Finalsite has been more like a partner than a vendor according to Miller. "They troubleshoot for us, create things for us and are always very responsive. It feels like we doubled our marketing team by hiring Finalsite.”

The website that Finalsite developed has helped Bethel College better serve its stakeholders including prospective students, current students, faculty, and administration. There are now social media Feeds on the homepage which notes things happening on campus and helps show prospective students what it’s like to be a part of the Bethel community. This is helpful to current students who want to know what's happening and prospective students.  "It shows prospective students what's happening and it helps them envision how they might fit in," says Miller.

Using Finalsite's social media Feeds, Bethel College can pull in posts from several social media channels. 

Bethel College has begun using Finalsite Posts. This function makes it simple for all contributors to share public content without logging in as a site administrator. Miller noted that faculty members will eventually be creating blog posts about things happening in their area of expertise. Miller believes, "Fresh content from professors about what is happening in the field will appeal to students who want authenticity."

While open source solutions have the benefit of being free, their limitations are costly. Finalsite can design and manage the website at your school, help to grow enrollment and retention, and they can also help the marketing/website team save time. That's priceless.

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