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When it's time to start looking at colleges and universities, one of the first places students turn is the internet, and what they find on school websites can quickly make or break a school's chances of piquing their interest.
According to one national admissions group, Lakeland College is among the best in the nation at making a great first virtual impression.
The admissions features on Lakeland's website were rated No. 9 in the nation among all colleges and universities by the National Research Center for College & University Admissions (NRCCUA), the nation's leading organization in connecting young people and their families with college and universities around the country.
It's the third straight year that Lakeland's website has been included among the nation's best, but the first time the college has cracked the top 10. Lakeland's website was given an A rating as part of the ninth annual Enrollment Power Index® (EPI), an analysis of the admissions websites of more than 3,000 post-secondary institutions.
Only 140 of the 3,000 institutions evaluated received an A, and Lakeland was one of just 16 schools to earn a score in the 70s on a 100-point scale.
The NRCCUA research-based study rates how well the functionality and design of college and university admissions websites provide information to potential students and moves them from prospect to applicant.
The study examined 34 different criteria that were divided into five main categories:
An email survey was sent to over 100,000 college-bound high school students asking them to rate over 3,000 sites to identify functional features present on each site. Statistical tests were then used to identify the functional features that were important to students and their relative importance.
Nate Dehne, Lakeland's director of admissions, said the college's website plays a critical role in introducing prospective students to Lakeland, and giving them an avenue to learn more.
"The website sits at the point of our communication with students," Dehne said. "It is a matter of sending our messages where students are, and they are online."
This year's research revealed three items that have become more critical to admissions websites and are expected by potential students:
Lakeland has been offering virtual chat nights with admissions, financial aid and other departments, and this summer Lakeland added live chat for both its admissions department and for other visitors looking for general information quickly.
The college has had online application for years, but recently launched my.Lakeland.edu, which allows prospective students a variety of options, including monitoring the status of their application. It also serves as a social networking site for the college's alumni.
"In an age where students can order a pair of shoes online, get an instant response about their order, track its shipping and, when the shoes arrive, receive an e-mail to get their feedback, college admissions are required to do the same," Dehne said.
"Obviously buying shoes and selecting a college are vastly different, but the basic fundamental approach to 'instant customer service' must remain that same. The my.Lakeland.edu site, along with the college's main website, provide the tools to allow students to look into their admission status, schedule a visit, contact counselors and everything else they need to make a good college choice."
Lakeland's website, which is operated under the leadership of Neal Grosskopf, the college's coordinator of interactive communications, continues to add new features, including audio podcasts of news and events on campus, site tools that make pages printer friendly and allow visitors to email links of pages to friends directly from the page, cleaner news pages with more images and detailed search features that allow visitors to find what they are looking for more quickly.
Lakeland's site has enjoyed a 15.6 percent increase in site visits from January-September of this year compared to the same time frame last year.
"We congratulate Lakeland for having one of the top admissions related websites," said Don Munce, President of NRCCUA, a non-profit education research organization based in Lee's Summit, Mo., which serves as a communications link between college-bound high school students and public and private colleges and universities.
"Prospective college students are Internet-savvy, and they have come to expect the admissions sections of university websites to provide critical information to help them make decisions. As Lakeland has recognized, a quality website can now be the difference between a lost prospect and a new student."
Additional information on the EPI study is available at www.nrccua.org/epireport.