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 University, a Christian liberal arts university 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.
"Finalsite played a role in increasing the number of people taking actions [scheduling a visit, applying to the university, and requesting information] we want them to take through the website," said Susan Miller, Director of Web Strategy at the school.
Bethel University enrolls around 2,000 students from around the world. Founded in 1947, the university's goal is to create leaders for the world, serving as intentional guides for students along their spiritual journey and path to academic success. Bethel University offers more than 50 areas of study to provide students opportunities to explore, grow and prepare for their future careers.
"Finalsite played a role in increasing the number of people taking actions [scheduling a visit, applying to the university, and requesting information] we want them to take through the website, as well as increasing alumni engagement. The new website has provided more opportunities to connect with alumni and made it easier to register and attend events.
DIRECTOR OF WEB STRATEGY
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 University, the task for updating and maintaining it fell to the school’s IT Team. Miller, who has been at Bethel University 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 university 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 said.
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 I'm not interrupted by technical challenges," Miller said. "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," Miller said. "Now, it happens seamlessly which improves the way we handle publicity, promote events, and remind students to fill out the FAFSA."
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," Miller said.
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," Miller said. "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 work around or wait until open source rectifies. How long will that 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 said, "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 University 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," Miller said.
Bethel University also uses Finalsite Posts to make 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. "Fresh content from professors about what is happening in the field will appeal to students who want authenticity," Miller said.
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.
See for yourself how Finalsite's full suite of tools will save you time and improve your school's online presence!
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