Determining the Design of Effective Graduate School Web Sites

Article excerpt

In a 2003 article for College and University, Poock and Lefond analyzed the characteristics of effective graduate school Web sites by focusing on prospective students, the information they sought, the elements that either enhanced or inhibited Web navigation and appearance, and the impact of the amount of time it took to locate information on the site. This follow-up study replicates Poock and Lefond's and extends its findings to the needs of currently enrolled students.

The use of the World Wide Web has been well documented in higher education. As prior research indicates, the Web has a variety of uses including admission (Poock 1999), registration (Wang 2002), and the college selection process (Pope and Fermin 2003). Perhaps the greatest impact of the Web has been seen in the college search and selection process, as most students use this technology to make their decisions (Christiansen et al. 2003).

While much of this research focuses on undergraduate students (e.g., Pope and Fermin 2003), there is growing attention on graduate students. For example, Hans (2001) assessed graduate student recruitment by examining Web sites at numerous academic departments. The author found that Web pages varied greatly in their effectiveness. Hoeflich (2002), in studying the program choice of graduate students, found the Web to be instrumental in that process while brochures and related publications were relatively unimportant. Additionally, Poock and Lefond (2003) examined the characteristics of effective graduate school Web sites. The authors identified a variety of variables that impact the recruitment of graduate students.

This current study is a related tollow-up to the study conducted by Poock and Lefond, with the focus on graduate school Web appearance, information desired by prospective students, and-unlike Poock and Lefond's study-the inclusion of the needs of currently enrolled students.

Methodology

The investigation began over a two-day period during the Fall of 2003 at a major research university in the Southeast. Twenty-five newly-enrolled graduate students were divided into three focus groups. Of the participants, fourteen were doctoral students and eleven were in master's programs. There were eighteen female students and seven males, and the racial composition included sixteen Whites, six Asian/ Pacific Islanders, two African Americans, and one undisclosed. The participants received a complimentary snack in exchange for their time.

Respondents were asked to complete four tasks:

* Listing what they expected to find on graduate schools Web sites when they were applying to their programs.

* Identifying all the information they would like to see on a graduate school Web site as a matriculated student.

* Evaluating what they found useful on the Web sites of two major research universities through a focus group format recommended by Krueger (1994).

* Locating specific information including the graduate schools' tuition and fees, the registrar's calendar, graduate student housing, and the office hours for counseling and psychological services.

These searches began on the graduate school home page and the respondents' retrieval times were recorded.

Results

WHAT STUDENTS EXPECTED TO FIND ON GRADUATE SCHOOLS WEB SITES WHEN APPLYING

As Table 1 indicates, when the participants reflected on their experiences selecting graduate schools, most looked for admissions information, faculty research interests, financial aid, program information, and departmental contacts. They were not interested in the institution's location, housing information, or the university's mission. Several wanted to know the amount of time it took to graduate and the graduate school's placement rate. Only three of the twenty-five viewed the ranking and/or reputation of the graduate school or the program as important.

THE INFORMATION MATRICULATED STUDENTS WOULD LIKE TO SEE ON A GRADUATE SCHOOL WEB SITE

The researchers then examined what the participants sought once they moved from prospective to matriculated status. …