This July, website visitors—including current and prospective students and their families, faculty, staff—will have an improved experience when they visit the CU Denver university main site, which includes the ucdenver.edu homepage, and central student services sites. Powered by a new content management system (CMS) and redesigned with the goal of improving how we serve students on the web, the sites are an effort to better support their success through recruitment, enrollment, and retention to graduation—one of the university’s key strategic priorities.
A collaboration between multiple departments, the months-long project is nearing completion despite the unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The sites are one component of a larger CMS transition from Sharepoint to Sitefinity for the CU Denver and CU Anschutz campuses. The CMS transition, aimed at creating a more positive experience for website visitors, is expected to conclude this fall.
Sponsors of the redesign project for CU Denver’s main university site and central student services sites include the offices of Administration and Finance, Student Success, University Communications, and Information Technology. Many teams and individuals within these units contributed their time and expertise to ensure the re-envisioned sites meet users’ needs.
Using extensive campuswide research conducted by Denver-based advertising agency Cactus, the team reconceived the sites with the objectives of making easier-to-find content, ensuring key tasks—like contacting an advisor—align with how students think about completing them, and sharing clear and concise information. In addition, we will continue to build a holistic view of how our students use the sites through analytics data and testing and apply those insights to develop and optimize their digital experiences, said Karen Klimczak, interim vice chancellor of University Communications.
The goal is to contribute to a more positive student experience that leads to student success, which can influence higher retention and graduation rates.
“Many people across the campus have worked incredibly hard over the last year to re-imagine our website from the student perspective, and I think the entire campus community will be proud of the result,” said Jennifer Sobanet, senior vice chancellor for Administration and Finance and chief financial officer. “The student-centered design makes it easy for both prospective and current students to find their way to the information and support services they need based on where they are in their journey.”
A More Seamless, Student-Focused Experience
Before, the student services and university main sites displayed duplicate information, dense language, and links to obsolete pages. Site visitors had to navigate through several clicks and scrolls to find desired information. Oftentimes, that makes for a confusing user experience.
Carrie John, associate vice chancellor for Student Enrollment Operations & Compliance in the Office of the Registrar, said: “The former website design was heavily focused on our organizational structure, with information laid out by each of the offices and units of CU Denver. To improve the student experience, we wanted to realign our information into a student-centric model.”
The new, mobile-friendly websites provide a more seamless, student-focused experience. On the university homepage, programs and services—such as taking a tour, exploring schools and colleges, and calculating tuition costs—are located in one central hub with seamless navigation tabs at the top and left of every page. The student services website is similar, with easy navigation to paying bills, scheduling an appointment with an advisor, and logging onto the student portal.
On both redesigned sites, the content is unambiguous, free of confusing jargon. There is less text, more white space, high-quality photos, and visual cues, which together provide a more navigable experience.
The websites continue to promote three of CU Denver’s key messages: connection to the city, research, and experiential learning. The difference is, the content is student-driven. Key pieces of information, such as deadlines and check-lists, are located at the top of pages. Also highlighted are testimonials from current students and alumni and facts spotlighting the diverse population of CU Denver, which makes the content more interesting and relatable.
“We are flipping it so that it’s more the way students think,” said Catherine Wilson, director of web communications for University Communications. “The blend of the site structure and information on the site better meets the needs of the students. If the students are successful in accomplishing what they need to accomplish, it’s a win-win for everyone.”
The sentiment rings true now more than ever.
Creating Roadmaps for Student Success
The project was carried out in three phases over a 10-month period. The time was used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the former site, using input from more than 200 students and staff members across campus.
During the three-phase process, Cactus measured data through surveys, current website usability testing, and focus groups. To evaluate the backend of the website, the research team conducted a website analytics audit, heatmap analytics evaluation (which shows how people engage with the webpages), and a competitive landscape analysis.
From the findings, the research team identified the primary uses, strengths, and roadblocks of the current web experience, and outlined detailed maps for the different groups of students who use the website. A transfer student, for example, needs clear direction on where to begin in the transfer credit process. A first-generation or international student must be able to easily find information on funding eligibility or visa status.
Accomplishing these tasks requires concise and consistent language, scannable content with clear headings, and clarity around timelines and next steps. The new university main and student services websites were created with these requirements at the forefront.
In phases two and three of the project, makers and contributors from Student Success, OIT, and University Communications developed a new navigation and content strategy based on the research findings and student feedback. Design and creation of the prototype followed.
Phase three concluded with a test of the final product—reimagined university main and student services websites that prioritize student success. The new sites will launch June 26 – 28.