Columbia University School of Professional Studies

Increasing Prominence to Drive Student Applications

As one of prestigious schools affiliated at Columbia University, the School of Professional Studies (SPS) is expanding the reach and impact of an Ivy League education so more students can take their education and careers to the next level. The school offers seventeen master’s degree programs, seventeen certificate programs, and a wide range of other educational experiences.

In 2018, SPS hired The Additive Agency to create a new brand for the school and a new website. Additive knew that they needed a technical partner who had experience delivering quality higher-education websites — both for prospective students and for SPS content administrators.  Our experience building and maintaining higher education websites made Advomatic an obvious fit.

 

New SPS homepage

Services Provided

  • Technical Strategy
  • Stakeholder Coordination
  • Project Management
  • Technical Implementation
  • Ongoing support, maintenance, and technical strategy

Project Goals

  • Increasing Prestige: Boost the cachet of SPS as one of the premier institutions for executive and professional higher-ed programs.
  • Increase Student Applications: Almost all prospective students interact with the website before applying.  SPS wanted to improve conversions.
  • Enduring flexibility: This website needs to be more than a pretty façade. It must evolve and morph with the school over time — but not at the expense of administrative usability. There should be little need to read the written documentation or watch the orientation videos.

Challenges

Department Stakeholders

How departments within a school view the school website is the key variable in the complexity of a higher-ed project. The various departments at SPS don’t have separate websites;  they think of their twenty pages on the main website as their program’s website. This means that instead of 5 to 10 key stakeholders, they have 50 to 100. 

This isn’t new for us. We’ve refined our process over many years to ensure that everyone involved gets the right level of input at the right times. We also put a lot of thought into the order in which we build things: The most important items come first, and we launch those pieces early so that we can get feedback and prioritize refinements as we continue.

 

You empowered us to empower ourselves.

— Chris Rugen, Director of Design and Web Development at Columbia University, SPS

 

SPS event screenshot

 

Department Sections of the Website

The 60 smaller websites within a website come with unique challenges:

  • Consistency: A potential student should be able to navigate between different programs and recognize common wayfinding markers to easily compare different programs.
  • Flexibility: There’s an extremely wide range of complexity between different programs. One might have degree and non-degree options and over 100 faculty members, while another might have one degree and six faculty members. Each program needs to be able to present the full range of its offerings. 
  • Structured for the visitor: Internally, the school has several different types of programs. Many of them only make sense to the school administration. Instead the website structures the programs in a way that makes sense to a potential student: what kind of degree will I get, how much prior experience do I need to have, etc.
  • Highlighting what makes the program and the school unique: Pages within a program have unique elements that distinguish them while maintaining a cohesive connection to the school.

Navigating these challenges required a lot of thought about the editorial experience. When creating a new page within a program, the editor is offered a default set of components that is consistent across programs. However, they can re-order, remove, or add components from a library. 

 

I was blown away at how you managed all of the constraints.

— Catharina Torok, Web Developer at Columbia University, SPS

 

 

This was a daunting project at times – but our partnership with Additive and Advomatic gave us the tools for success – we launched the site on time, with a new, scalable design that’s a huge leap ahead.  

— Chris Rugen, Director of Design and Web Development at Columbia University, SPS