March 18, 2012 6:13 pm


It’s been just over a month since I penned my post Rethinking Mobile in Higher Ed: An Argument for an Admissions-First Approach. The post, which has been one of our most popular all-time, took the stance that higher ed has been missing the mark by building mobile experiences targeted specifically to the needs of those currently on campus. Pointing to recent data from an E-Expectations Trend Report on mobile, I argued that our current mobile offerings are coming at the expense of the prospective student experience.

Following the post, the conversation continued with coverage in Inside Higher Ed, collegewebeditor, and other blogs, breaking down several key points of my argument, including the true state of mobile in higher ed, who should own mobile development, and who the primary audience ultimately is.

Karine Joly, of collegewebeditor, took issue with my initial claim that the majority of current mobile offerings were failing to cater to the needs of prospectives, as outlined in the Noel-Levitz research. In a great follow up post, Karine did several hours of detailed research based on the findings of the 2012 State of Mobile in Higher Ed Survey Report, finding 35% to 60% of institutions delivered at least some of the key items prospectives are looking for. Those numbers are just a few of her new findings, all of which did a great job of highlighting that, yes, the problem of failing to address all of prospective student’s needs via mobile exists, but perhaps we are not as far off the mark as I had initially suspected.

Karine’s response post, the additional blog coverage, and some great comments to the initial post all left me wondering…

Where do we go from here? How can we continue to constructively push this conversation forward and collectively make smarter decisions about utilizing mobile technology to support institutional goals?

For starters, while recently attending the 2012 OmniUpdate User Conference in Universal City, California, I tracked down two key players involved in the initial Noel-Levitz research. In the below brief interview, Stephanie Geyer, AVP of Web Strategy Services at Noel-Levitz, and Lance Merker, President and CEO of OmniUpdate, shared their thoughts on the key takeaways of the survey, and what they think we need to do next.

After the conversation with Lance and Stephanie I was more convinced then ever that it’s important for us to identify tangible next steps in this important conversation around the execution of mobile in higher ed.

Breaking down such a complex issue isn’t easy, but I’ve come up with the following 4 questions I feel need to be addressed.

1) Who Should Own Mobile Development?
In my original post I hinted that the admissions office should be owning mobile development, as a strategy to ensure prospective students’ needs are addressed. Dave Olsen took issue with this point in a great response comment. Ultimately, upon further reflection, I think this is an issue that can be put to bed. Who should it be? It doesn’t really matter. It’s not about who builds it. It’s about who it is built for.

2) What Prospective-Focused Information Needs to be Available?
While many of us have previously made our best educated guesses on what content our varying audiences may want to have provided to them via mobile, I feel this question has been answered, at least for the time being. The Noel-Levitz findings outline exactly what prospective students are looking for, and as far as I’m concerned every mobile offering shipping from here on out should feature it.

3) Who is the Priority User?
Clearly mobile can cater to more than one audience, but when it comes down to the really hard decisions, who do we prioritize? From what I heard 3rd party over Twitter, in a recent presentation Dave Olsen argued that it’s the on-campus students who should be prioritized over potential future students. That’s an argument I respectively disagree with. Just like our traditional website, our mobile site needs to be able to act as a sales support tool. While the initial Noel-Levitz data showed just 2% of students thought negatively of a school that failed to offer the information they wanted via mobile, I strongly believe that number will change – and fast – and it’s more important than ever for institutions to think longterm about their mobile strategy and how it relates to institutional enrollment goals.

4) What Does an Integrated Approach Look Like?
As Stephanie Geyer points out at the end of the above embedded video, an integrated approach for multiple audiences can certainly work. But what does such an approach look like? From the data we know it likely shouldn’t be an app, but what does a solution look like that caters to everyone? This is the tough question that has yet to be answered. Can you deliver the best on-campus experience – including bus schedules, directories, maps, etc. – while also providing prospective students admissions deadlines and academic program listings? If so, how do you deliver such detailed information in a dynamic and intuitive way?

One potential solution I’ve been pondering is self-identification. It’s an approach to traditional website navigation that I’m not particularly fond of, but in a mobile environment, could it work to simply ask a visitor directly? It may not be an ideal solution, but given the drastic difference in screen size, there may need to be sacrifices in the mobile space that we don’t need to make with the desktop.

Clearly the conversation around mobile in higher ed is far from over. But the big question remains, where do we go from here? Did I get it right with the identification of the above key questions, or am I missing a pivotal point to the problem?

It’s clear many of us are committed to engaging in dialogue around this challenge, and I hope you utilize the below comment field, Twitter, your own blog, etc., to continue to address the issue and help us push the conversation – and our efforts – forward.

Category: Blog Posts | Mobile

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  • Mike Rivera

    I cover a lot of the same ground in a post I wrote at

    Much of this post dances around a topic that, IMHO, cuts to the chase: conflating market segmentation with use case scenarios.

    • Anonymous

      Really enjoyed your post. Definitely recommend other folks check it out as well. 

      Why do you think this argument hasn’t taken hold in higher ed thus far? Despite the increase of data to back it up, we continue – as an industry – to be making questionable decisions with mobile. The argument is out there, but action reflects an industry that isn’t yet convinced (or perhaps simply informed.)

      • Mike Rivera

        Well, I’m sure the reasons vary by institution, but for our university, I think the reason comes down to this: we meet our enrollment numbers. 

        Put yourself in your chancellor’s shoes, you might not see any problems at all. If enrollment targets are being met, then it’s logical to think that the institution’s marketing efforts must be working well enough, right? If they weren’t, then we’d see problems getting people to attend. Why spend your valuable time, money and/or effort on what seem to be non-existent problems?

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