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Building community: Website design for a genuine community college experience

June 28, 2024

The modern website is now the front door of any business. It’s the way consumers learn about and make decisions about products and services—and in the field of higher education, it can often influence enrollment decisions.

Websites need to look professional, be easy to navigate, and most importantly, educate students on the many benefits of attending a particular institution.

According to a recent Pew Research report, only one in four U.S. adults say it’s extremely or very important to have a four-year college degree in order to get a well-paying job in today’s economy. This has made every website search for any educational institution into a sales pitch for classes, services, and career training that will ultimately lead to career opportunities. The college and university websites that are best designed to accommodate these priorities have the best chance to serve their purpose.

Johnstown, New York’s Fulton-Montgomery Community College understands this. So when it came time to transform its website to better serve modern priorities, they turned to The Martin Group. Here’s an explanation of our approach, execution, and unveiling a site that better suits the SUNY community college’s needs.

An update to enhance impact

Fulton-Montgomery Community College approached us with a mission to completely revamp the college’s brand and online communications. The existing website, comprising over 300 pages, was challenging to navigate and cumbersome to update. The objective was to streamline the content and visually connect potential students with career options that resonate with them. As the primary gateway for prospective students, college websites have long been a vital tool in any college’s marketing strategy. In a world where in-person campus visits are increasingly rare, academic websites must make a significant impact.

Employing a new concept

After a collaborative strategy session involving all stakeholders, a groundbreaking new approach to community college website design in higher education emerged: the “career pathways” concept. This innovative design enhances the college’s academic programs and certificate offerings by emphasizing clear career pathways that lead directly to employment or facilitate transfer to four-year colleges and universities. This approach also underscores the direct partnerships with regional employers, alongside numerous transfer articulation agreements established with bachelor’s degree-granting institutions.

The homepage welcomes users with a top 10 career pathways framework, educating prospective students about career opportunities available through FMCC. Through visual illustrations, videos, testimonials, logos of employers and transfer colleges, faculty bios, and comprehensive labor and educational statistics, the team adeptly addressed key questions frequently asked by prospective students, parents, and educators.

What career paths does this degree offer? What salary can I anticipate? Which employers are currently hiring in the region? And what are the potential transfer degree programs available?

In addition to the career pathways concept, the new website incorporates strategic enrollment management principles for all enrollment-related webpages including admissions, affordability and costs, financial aid and scholarships, as well as the call-to-action pages (inquiry, campus visits, and apply). Additional focus was dedicated to these pages to streamline content, avoid confusion, and present them from a student perspective rather than an institutional perspective as is often seen on other college websites.  

Each of the 60+ program pages was crafted to allow each department’s unique personality and culture to shine and for students to virtually engage with the space. They feature galleries showcasing student work and videos, information on potential career paths and estimated salaries, details on transfer opportunities, and descriptions of clubs available for students to join.

Simply put, our goal was for students to feel excited about the programs without being intimidated by them and chart a course for an exciting career.

The content creation plan was also a key driver to the success of this college website. An effective content strategy should integrate SEO insights, relevant market research about the audience, and current events and trends.

Moreover, this strategy should extend beyond the most prominent pages of a college website.

Dynamic thinking delivers results

In every project we undertake, there’s often a pivotal moment that ignites an idea.

In the case of this FMCC website, it was a coworker sharing how his son, who had a passion for sports, was uncertain about potential career paths and which educational programs to pursue. That drove the idea and design of the career-first approach; and from the perspective of our client, it was the exact type of creation and thinking they needed.

“The overall process required additional time than a typical website design project, but the results speak for themselves,” said Dan Fogarty, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and chair of the website committee at SUNY Fulton-Montgomery Community College. “The website is impressive and unlike anything I have seen before in higher education. The design features of the website and program pages allow you to keep the content fresh by easily adding new student testimonials, pictures, and videos. It’s definitely a game changer for us.”

Since the site’s launch, enrollments have increased, and engagement with the website has grown significantly among students, parents, and business partners.

Want to learn more about The Martin Group’s work with colleges and universities? Click here.

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