Is Open Source a Good Solution for School Websites?
Angelo Otterbein

Inevitably, a current client or prospective client will directly, though sometimes obliquely, ask the question: Why should I go with a proprietary system like Finalsite when I can just go with Open Source, which (insert name of relative here) knows how to use and is free?

In fact, we welcome this question and enjoy answering it. We’d rather have an informed discussion about one of the most important and significant investments you’ll make in your marketing and communications department: your website platform. We should start by saying that if we believed open source was an answer for the kind of software schools and colleges need, we’d have built our own solution on top of it. We thought we’d take some time here to explain why.

For one, when comparing the Finalsite Platform with Open Source, we focus on the features and benefits we know are important to the market we serve, which makes the scale tip far more in Finalsite’s favor, which is indeed why 2,200 schools choose Finalsite — nearly half of NAIS schools in the US, over 225 of the most recognized international schools in over 70 countries, and a sizeable percentage of HMC schools in the United Kingdom. These market-specific features are a large part of our value proposition, however, including key areas like support.


Finalsite Platform

Open Source (WordPress and Drupal)

DIY (Wix, SquareSpace)


Custom Design


Source code is free



Extensible via API


Support included


Akamai Content Delivery Network (for a faster website across the globe)



Large developer community



Inbound Marketing Tools



Integration with top Student Information Systems



GDPR Compliant



ADA Compliant with Accessibility Toolbar



20+ School Specific Modules and Add-Ons



Single Sign-On with school web services vendors



Athletics Management



Content and email personalization with built in school-filters (grades, constituents, etc)



Integrated Strategic Marketing Services



Integrated SEO/PPC and Social Advertising


Annual Fee


Support/hosting included


Dedicated developer not required



Web strategy workshops, webinars and eBooks for school professionals




Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the key areas that matter and often come up when weighing pros and cons.

Data, Hosting & Security


In our view, there’s too much at stake when it comes to data privacy, security and hosting. Finalsite invests heavily in its data center and infrastructure to keep information secure, while our robust DDoS mitigation solution implemented alongside our Akamai-enabled content delivery network means that both the site and data are not only protected, but also fast, 24/7. Websites in general, including Finalsite’s, are attacked daily and with increasing sophistication. This is a non-trivial issue and expense for Finalsite when it comes to protecting the site from being hacked and ensuring uptime.

In fact, we serve 1.2 million page visits a day and have configured our software to handle high traffic environments specifically to the unique, seasonal spikes associated with schools. We also want to be sure that we follow secure application development practices, which includes ongoing developer training, dynamic application testing, and static analysis.

What’s more, we can certify that our software platform is GDPR, Privacy Shield, and ISO 27001 compliant. The data center is SSAE 16 SOC I & II certified. All physical access is tightly controlled with Man Trap with Photo ID and Iris scanning. There is also Continuous Vulnerability Scanning and multiple 10G Internet uplinks in BGP4 mesh

That’s a lot of jargon, but it all matters. In short, we can monitor and control the infrastructure in a transparent and accountable way — this also means that when you have questions in this area, we can give you a straight and clear answer.

Hosting support provided by the Finalsite team can also provide 60-minute site restoration due to container technologies we use that are similar to Google and Facebook. 

Learn more about Finalsite's Secure Website Hosting


Wordpress and Drupal

Meanwhile, the beauty of solutions like Wordpress and Drupal is that they are Open Source, and so it changes constantly under the umbrella of thousands of developers; this is exciting in its own right, but for schools and colleges, we find this notion somewhat terrifying. 

Aside from the frequent updates which are created to attend to an enormously broad user base, the more functionality you have the more updates you need. Can you be sure that your open source provider has the necessary infrastructure to handle a first day back-to-school spike in traffic? If you employ someone to manage your open source site and they decide to retire or stop managing your website, what do you do?



Finalsite's support team is always here for any staff turnover. If someone leaves on a Monday morning, no problem, we're here for you. We pride ourselves on having a 15-minute response time to critical support tickets. But we often ask: what is the guaranteed time that your open source vendor can have the site up and running again, especially if there's a catastrophic failure? And what are the off-site contingency plans?

Wordpress and Drupal

If your site is hosted with a smaller outfit, can you be sure that spikes in traffic can be dealt with? How easy are they to get hold of if anything goes wrong? Hosting an open source site is at the discretion of the provider, who could be making up SLA numbers. 

UX & UI Implementation and Customization


Finalsite has built its reputation in part by having the best designs in the industry, winning more awards for its work than any other provider. We have taken this skillset and applied it to a library of themes developed by the same talented design team. 

While there are plenty of reasons to go down the path of a custom design, a prebuilt custom theme is also great for efficiency and speed. These themes maintain a brand standard that's deployed as a foundation for the rest of the site. Using the theme design, Finalsite Composer Content Management System (CMS) allows for an unlimited number of layout and page variations as users create the content on each page.

In short, this means that we are not fitting content into a website; we are fitting a website around your content. Also, in the case of custom design, Finalsite’s team only works with schools, which have unique design challenges that they know how to solve. 

One specific and very important recent example of why this matters has to do with website accessibility. Finalsite now has an integrated solution within its editor that automatically checks to make sure your website is compliant with the latest WCAG standards. What’s more, our partnership with AudioEye means sites can include a toolbar for real-time and ongoing remediation as content gets added to your site.

Decades of focus on schools means that Finalsite is starting from a deep foundation of understanding, so that the time spent on design is not about learning K-12 broadly, but the specifics of what makes your school unique. This leads to a thoughtful design that will last for years.

Wordpress and Drupal

Themes are a hallmark of the open source offering and provide options for your designs. While the Wordpress and Drupal theme libraries are vast, and often look good, they often do not readily solve design challenges that might accompany school-specific areas like athletics (dynamic team listings, team pages, etc.) or fundraising / online giving sections (e.g. annual fund thermometers or lists of recent gifts). 

What’s more, there is a seasonal rhythm to the school calendar and the accompanying needs and messages (summer programs, annual fun, back-to-school); a design should support those kinds of opportunities, both on the homepage and interior. As clients learn and use the Finalsite Platform, this becomes increasingly more important.

Features and Product Development


The Finalsite Platform has evolved based on the features and demands of our school client base over the last 20 years. This means we’ve both encountered and handled any number of nuances associated with everything from faculty/staff directory displays to online giving to alumni communities. 

Because our software is built in-house through a dedicated and formalized product management process, features are continuously added based on the evolving needs of our schools. Carpool maps, digital publications, grade-based email filters, and club pages are all a result of listening to our market; this means your job is not to think about all the possibilities, but to leverage what we have. Your issues are oftentimes similar to many other schools, be it a system integration with something like Magnus Health; admissions systems like Ravenna or OpenApply; or student information systems like WCBS, Veracross, and Blackbaud.

Finalsite has been in business for twice as long as Wordpress and has only ever served the educational sector. We have learned from mistakes and listened to our clients for feedback and improvements just as the open source developers do. The difference in our community is that it’s unique, specialized, and focused on the education market.

Wordpress and Drupal

Wordpress and Drupal feature a significant library of plugins and enhancements, many of which can be easily added. But this also comes with a cost, one of which is simply the unknown: can you be confident about who developed it, is there support, and what are the ongoing costs? Perhaps most importantly, in the context of tightening regulations such as GDPR, what are the data privacy implications of a plug-in? 

Compatibility is another key consideration with regards to adding third-party plug-ins and features: can everything scale the way you hope, and do the parts work well together? Be sure to dig deep to confirm that all the installed plug-ins and features are ISO 27001 compliant, and that data is not freely shared.

The open source developer community is vast, and not surprisingly, there are many articles about many Wordpress and Drupal related problems and fixes. There is no ownership of the code or the plug-ins, which means that if you discover a problem or a bug, a developer will have to post to the community for someone to work it out, which can be time-consuming and unpredictable.

Many schools that host their own Wordpress or Drupal site require technical support to handle the above; this is a non-trivial hidden cost to understand. At a minimum, it can be disruptive of the time your existing IT staff should be spending on other important jobs and tasks. Make sure whomever manages your open source site has experience in each individual modules and all its caveats. Don’t start at the beginning of a learning curve!



While the Finalsite platform comes with an annual subscription cost, those fees are predictable and cover everything: upgrades, support, hosting, security, and backups. It also pays for peace of mind: you’re not chasing the freelance contractor in an emergency. When you work with Finalsite, you have a number you always call, as well as a well-educated and trained team you get to know and count on, many of whom are school professionals in their former career. So while there is a cost to Finalsite, it is not hidden or a surprise -- both of which don’t go over well with your CFO!

Wordpress and Drupal

As an open source platform, an open source site can start as “free,” but it’s important to take into account consulting fees to customize and design the application, hosting, support if you’re using a third-party service, and any additional licensing fees that may accompany a complex website. As mentioned above, the “hidden” cost of your IT staff supporting open source should be recognized and allocated. While it may be an hour or two a week on normal weeks, there may also be times when it consumes significant blocks of time that could otherwise be spent supporting the school’s other technology initiatives. Wordpress and Drupal are only free if your (or your team’s) time is worth zero.

Integration with 3rd Party Software


If you're looking to pull data from another system, Finalsite’s support staff can help you leverage that data dynamically, including integrations such as Powerschool, Blackbaud, Veracross and Senior Systems. The Platform also supports an LDAP connection where users can use their school credentials for login, or even pull students and staff details from Active Directory. 

Finalsite also offers more than 30 Single Sign-ons (SSOs) so that users can easily access other programs you may use at your school, including Canvas, Naviance and Google. All these options are secure and have been rolled out to hundreds of clients. 

Wordpress and Drupal

In any open environment, there is uncertainty and, with that, risk. Can you be sure that the vendor you're using for your integration has a proven track record and are charging a price to help cover the cost of the support of their product? If the product is free, be sure to find some assurances that the support will be around for a couple of years and you won’t be left with a useless plugin that compromises the security of your website and your users’ data. Also, be sure that the vendor is not reusing or selling any data that it collects.

We also find that to make an integration work with a vendor like Blackbaud or Naviance, close communication is required between the two companies. Additionally, these companies are motivated to partner with a company like Finalsite, who has a broad reach into so many schools -- there is a benefit of scale for everyone. In the case of an open source platform, partner organizations and companies aren’t as compelled to cooperate.


Wordpress and Drupal are established platforms used by a vast array of businesses and organizations. They are perfect for a small eCommerce business, personal website, or even a large community website. But when it comes to the needs and demands of schools and colleges, we believe they fall short.

Because Finalsite has been around for nearly 20 years, our subscription model has allowed us to become the largest school CMS provider in the world, with more than 2,200 clients in over 70 countries. We serve more than 1.2 million page views every day, and we've won 90+ design awards in industry-leading competitions. Most importantly, this means we are accountable to a vast network of schools who depend on us every day. We are more than motivated to continue to provide the products and services that our clients request as long as possible. 

New call-to-action


angelo otterbein headshot

Angelo graduated valedictorian from St. Paul's School in Baltimore, MD and from Princeton University. Despite getting his degree in creative writing and English Literature, it generally takes some doing to keep him from programming and breaking websites. Just after graduating, he started Silverpoint, and grew it to over 300 schools worldwide before merging with Finalsite in 2013.




There are no news posts to display

Keep Reading...

Get a Free 15-Minute Website Consultation!

Give us 15 minutes of your time and we'll give you expert feedback on your school, district or university website — no strings attached.