Choosing an enterprise-level content management system (CMS) is the kind of decision that’s likely to cross a college or university president’s desk. It can affect an institution’s capacity to meet recruitment and reputational goals, reorient major units like IT and marketing, necessitate campus-wide change management, and require significant investments in time and money.
If you’re a president, you may be asked to approve a CMS recommendation or even select from competing options. Fortunately, you don’t need to be an expert in technology infrastructure, marketing tactics, or digital content production and distribution to make the right call.
The following checklist considers CMS choices from a president’s perspective. Use it to inform questions, evaluation, and decisions.
A college or university CMS should:
- Make website management more efficient: Broadly speaking, a CMS lets non-technical users manage complex websites using tools
accessed through popular web browsers like Google Chrome. Many colleges and universities
use a CMS to expand their web teams, refresh web content more frequently, and reduce
the need for custom development.
- Meet needs specific to higher education: College and university websites must offer specialized functions like course catalogs
and faculty directories while integrating with student information systems and other
tools. Open source or commercial systems designed for other industries may not deliver
on higher education needs—look for a system that’s built for and used by colleges
- Serve strategic goals: Your website is your institution’s most prominent and powerful marketing and communications
tool, and a CMS should position it to best address priorities like student recruitment,
reputation building, and donor engagement. Ask how your CMS can be used to advance
these and other goals you’ve established.
- Balance IT and marketing considerations: A college or university website uses information technology tools to serve marketing
goals, and a CMS needs to bridge these two essential functions. Staff in both areas
have an important stake in system selection and implementation and should be partners
in the CMS evaluation and selection process.
- Free up IT capacity: That said, a contemporary, robust CMS should enable your IT team to step back from
day-to-day web management and focus on other needs. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) CMS
delivery models can yield significant savings on hardware and in-house support while
ensuring your system remains up to date and fully secure. Ask your team about SaaS
versus self-hosted options, as well as support needs.
- Promote brand consistency: Deployed campus wide, a CMS can unify websites for colleges, departments, and programs,
letting them share design templates, repurpose content, and publish across channels
(social media, digital publications, apps, etc.). A CMS also should support workflows
that enhance quality control and ensure your site consistently engages visitors.
- Address any accessibility concerns: Many colleges and universities are scrambling to make sure their sites meet the needs
of users with disabilities. A CMS should help your web team establish and maintain
accessibility standards by running automatic checks for common issues.
- Facilitate assessment: Digital marketing analytics let your team assess which strategies are producing the
best ROI. A CMS should make it easy to monitor website traffic, social media engagement,
and digital conversions on the fly, drawing on reliable data sources like Google Analytics.
- Make long-term financial sense: When evaluating CMS options, weigh total cost of ownership rather than system sticker
price. Open source CMSs like Wordpress and Drupal don’t come with license fees, but
may require bigger outlays for implementation and maintenance, not to mention hosting
fees, hardware costs, or support contracts. Commercial systems are not necessarily
- Be as future-proof as possible: Look for a CMS with a proven track record and significant market share, since an established system that sees regular upgrades is more likely to be around for the long haul. Consider underlying technologies as well—systems build on open standards are generally easier to extend and customize.
Evaluating and selecting a CMS can take six months or more. By the time your team is ready to present options, they should be able to address each of these topics. If not, ask them to dig deeper, talk with potential vendors’ existing customers, and lay out the pros and cons of competing systems.
A CMS is just as important as a student information or learning management system. The right set of tools can streamline behind-the-scenes processes and revolutionize how your institution tells its story. Weighing your choices and making an informed decision is well worth your time.
Ready to take the next step? Download our CMS evaluation guide.