On Memorial Day Weekend, Fairleigh Dickinson University is planning to go live with its new and enhanced website. This new website features a complete cosmetic makeover along with the implementation of a powerful new recruitment tool called “active admission.” Essentially, active admission will offer prospective students a very personalized experience at FDU.edu.

This new website is being built by Datatel, the company that manages FDU’s records; this will create a very seamless website for everyone to enjoy.

These are big changes that have been a long time in coming. In fact, the Admissions, Communications and Marketing, and MIS departments have been working together for about a year to fashion this new website.

This new website will replace the website that was created two years ago. Two years ago, the University contracted with a company called Ripple Effect for a new website. This resulted in the current website—a website that is in general, very cumbersome to use. Datatel then bought a design firm called Liquid Matrix. Since Datatel could offer these new design capabilities, FDU decided to contract them to create a new website for the University. The options that Datatel could offer were “a win-win situation ” as Art Petrosemolo, the associate vice president of communications and marketing, put it,

The new Datatel-built website will offer far more flexibility in updating the website. Currently, the website is bound by Ripple Effect’s content-management system—a system which utilizes very limiting templates for updating. Datatel’s content-management system is far more comprehensive that Ripple Effect’s and will even allow embedded java scripts and flash video on the website’s pages. More technological benefits of the new website include a physically lager site: the current site is configured for a screen that is 800 pixels wide. The new website will be 1000 pixels wide.

Students can view mock ups of the new website and some of it’s pages, at http://www.fdu.edu/2008/comingattractions.

“The structure of the website will not change in a big way,” said William Kennedy, the director of web operations.

This is mainly because a university’s website homepage must provide access to a lot of “As”—that is, Admissions, Alumni/Alumnae, Athletics, and Academics. This is all very standard for any college or university.

The biggest change, besides the obvious cosmetic makeover, is the active admissions tool. In fact the whole website change was driven by the Admissions office for this very thing. The way active admissions works, is when a prospective student visits FDU.edu, they will be asked to fill out a very brief questionnaire. They will give their name, their intended major, and outside interests. Based on the information given, the website will customize itself for that particular student. Additional visits to the website from that same computer will provide that same personalized experience.

For example, let’s say Joe Prospective-Student visits FDU.edu and says he wants to be a biology major and he likes theater and football. The version of the homepage that he sees will include Web Headliner profiles of students and faculty in the biology department, recent articles written by the biology faculty, as well as reviews of the latest plays by the theater department and the scores from the last football game. Jon Wexler, the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, said that for active admissions, the “idea is to really customize the experience that prospective students are getting and show them what they can get from the school.”

Wexler described it as an important step in the “continuous communication” that the University wants to have with the students; communication that starts with recruitment and extends “all the way through their experience” into alumni/alumnae relations.

This new website will certainly help in attracting new students while at the same time, solidifying the decisions made by prospective students. The new website will allow prospective students to take ownership and become more informed about things earlier in the process.

One of these improvements, which although is not a part of the vaunted new website, is coincidentally appearing around the same time, is a new Google-driven internal search engine. This will replace the existing content-management system, which certainly leaves a lot to be desired. Kennedy stated that this addition to the site “will go a long way to relieving the frustrations people have found with the existing searching capability.”

As for current students, you too can have a voice in this.

Weler would like to hear from current students about your thoughts on the new website: is it hard to navigate? Is there something that the University should be promoting more? Etc. Send all comments to jwexler@fdu.edu.

As current students, we will not receive the customized profiles that the prospective students receive; however we should benefit from the overall improvements to the website.

Published in the May 1, 2008 issue of The Metro.

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