4 Tips to Build a Modern, Student-Centric Catalog
Static PDF catalogs no longer serve the evolving needs of both students and institutions. Evaluate if your catalog needs a refresh by examining if it meets student needs, provides the most up-to-date information, and speaks to prospective students.
As student needs continue to evolve, a PDF catalog often doesn’t make the cut anymore. Not only is a PDF catalog limited in functionality, the majority of students are accustomed to using more advanced technology in their everyday life. A technologically outdated PDF may cause students to pause and wonder what their experience will be at that institution.
However, at many institutions the catalog is still a manually updated PDF document linked out on a public-facing website. While this approach provides information to some individuals, the catalog ultimately functions as more of an archive of that term or year. Other institutions use a point solution for their catalog that moves beyond the downloadable PDF document, but still serves as a web-based version of the PDF.
These solutions lack more dynamic search functionality, require significant manual work on the part of administrators, and result in a catalog that can easily become out of date without constant vigilance from staff. The goal of a modern catalog should be to create an immersive and explorative experience for current and prospective students. Newer solutions that provide this type of experience allow institutions to create a modern, student-centric catalog that serves as a tool to address student success metrics such as enrollment and completion rates.
As more institutions look to create a modern, student-serving catalog, they should keep in mind the following:
Ensure the catalog serves the changing needs of students as they progress through their program
Students’ needs will change throughout their time interacting with your institution. Even before enrollment, earlier stage students look to your catalog for information about where they fit in on campus or what program makes sense for them. Enrolled students are focused on being able to quickly find information about program requirements so they can be sure they are on the right track. As they near the end of their program, students turn to the catalog to ensure they’ve met graduation requirements.
Treat your catalog like it is the first impression prospective students have of your institution
Just as students research products they buy and entertainment they consume, students are becoming savvy consumers when it comes to higher education. Many students research an institution’s program offerings before speaking to someone or setting a foot on campus.
The most recent Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed found “major/program of interest offered” was a top consideration for their decision to enroll for 65% of students. A modern catalog should allow for SEO optimization and other online marketing functionalities that consistently rank your institution high in online searches.
Institutions can also leverage the catalog as a way to market the institution and each individual program. To help students envision their future, include information such as lifetime earnings, potential job titles, and skills learned on program pages. As more students are comparing the returns of education vs. immediately entering the job market, helping them understand the value of an education over the long-term will be key in keeping enrollment rates up.
Provide an up-to-date catalog in advance of the coming term to provide students with accurate information
A recent survey by AACRAO found that 54% percent of institutions do not have an approved catalog before students are recruited and admitted for the coming term. Consequently, students may be admitted into a program of study before it is fully approved or program requirements may change after a student is admitted.
Build time into the curriculum review and approval process to ensure changes are published with ample time for students that are considering enrolling at the institution. Additionally, consider how the time of year the catalog is published impacts when students can access the recent course and program information. The same AACRAO study found 45% of institutions publish their catalog in the summer. Assuming the summer catalog is published for the coming fall term, students are often already recruited and admitted to the institution.
Leverage your catalog as a tool to drive increased completion rates
To successfully complete their programs, students need to know requirements for completion. However, according to a recent survey of over 200 university leaders, 48% said curriculum changes are not always accurately reflected on program maps, completion audits, the website, or other student facing sources. Additionally, 62% said students are unaware of changes made to the curriculum that may impact them.
Enable students to easily access information that empowers them to successfully access the correct courses and complete their degree. To achieve this, the catalog must provide accurate, up-to-date, and easy to find information.
To attract prospective students and retain current students, a more immersive and exploratory experience will be essential to help students navigate the labyrinth of the catalog.