The University of Mississippi’s website will undergo its first major redesign in seven years, according to an unexpected announcement from Chancellor Glenn Boyce last week. After years of discussion, the redesign will have many steps to complete before the final rollout.
Robby Seitz, the university’s webmaster, confirmed that the university — the marketing and communications and information technology (IT) departments, specifically — is working on completely rebuilding the 20,000-page website, and he said that he’s pleased that the chancellor has this on his agenda.
Seitz said that the new website’s primary focus will be to recruit prospective students. Enrollment at the university has decreased 3.5% over the past year, according to a press release from the Institutions of Higher Learning from last fall, and this is the third consecutive year that enrollment fell.
“It seems like (recruiting) is really important,” Seitz said. “It’s one of the key things you should be using your website for because, yes, as they always say, it’s one of the first things that students who might not be familiar with your college will ever see about your college.”
Seitz said that he would be working on the organization of the website. Currently, it is built on multiple servers, which complicates the redesign. He said the university’s solution is to use a new content management system, Cascade 8, which the department purchased last year.
When discussed at last week’s Associated Student Body (ASB) Senate meeting, Boyce estimated the budget for the new website to be $1.5 million, but Seitz could not confirm this figure. For the exact price, he referred to the university’s public relations officials, who did not respond by time of publication.
Seitz said that before Boyce, IT officials mentioned completely redoing the website, but there was never any actionable plan behind it.
“The fact that he’s even said something like, ‘Yes, we’re going to redo the website.’ That’s helping so much because now people actually are interested, saying ‘Oh, well, Chancellor Boyce said that, let’s do that thing,’” Seitz said.
Seitz said the university has hoped to redesign the entire site so that all individual webpages are similar. He said this idea has been discussed for years.
“This actually goes back to Chancellor (Robert) Khayat,” Seitz said. “I had word from his office that he was surfing the web, which he didn’t do very often. He was searching the web for something or another, and he came up to a school’s biology website. He said, ‘Well, this looks great. We should get some of the stuff that they’re doing and do it here,’ and then he figured out it was actually our biology website. It didn’t look anything like the rest of the university’s site.”
Boyce and Seitz agreed that the website’s lack of mobile functionality is an issue. Seitz referenced prospective students in different countries having trouble accessing the site.
“We’ve got people in sub-Saharan Africa using flip phones and have tried to navigate our website, so we’ve got to be mindful of that sort of audience as well,” Seitz said.
Boyce announced his plan to “tear down” and rebuild the university’s website at an ASB Senate meeting last Tuesday.
“(The website) is antique,” Boyce said at the meeting. “One of the major problems with that website is that it’s not mobile friendly, and that’s a huge problem. When a parent wants to go to pay their bill from their phone, and they can’t get into the website and pay it to the bursar and so forth, that’s a serious problem.”
Jim Zook, university chief marketing and communications officer, later said that the university did not expect the redesign plans to be shared with the public at that meeting.
“You may have seen in the DM last week (that) we are about to embark on a whole new university website working in partnership with IT,” Zook said at a faculty senate meeting Tuesday evening. “We didn’t expect that to go public at this point, but it’s going to be a busy year or so to get that going.”
Amy Rhodes, a sophomore French and international studies major, said the university’s website is not very engaging — especially when viewing majors or the course catalogue.
“(The website consists of) very academic language and not something that would be good for exploring all the university has to offer,” Rhodes said. “There’s also no pictures or graphics.”
Seitz said he has always seen the website as a recruiting tool of sorts.
Boyce emphasized recruiting prospective students at the ASB meeting last week. He said that the university has plans to increase the amount of mail sent out to high school students and use data gathered from prospective students to market the university to them specifically.
“They have identified a point where you can almost send information into homes now because of technology and data that basically says, ‘I know what that student’s interest is inside that home,’” Boyce said at the meeting. “We can almost target students with your interests. We don’t even know you, and we can say, ‘Over here, they’re going to be really interested in leadership.’”
Seitz is not quite sure when the redesign would be finished, but he said it would likely be the middle of next year before the university would be ready for it to launch.
“I think it’s going to be nice, and it’ll be something fresh — at least something that we’ll get to look at and say, ‘Wow, that doesn’t look so 2013,’” Seitz said.