College-bound students flock to universities’ mobile websites

Only one in 10 campuses have a mobile website.

A surge in the percentage of recent high school graduates who use smart phones to research colleges and universities could turn campus web development on its head.

Colleges’ mobile sites, once considered experimental by campus leaders, could take priority over traditional websites, and soon.

Fifty-two percent of prospective college students said they had viewed a school’s website on a mobile device in 2011—more than double the percentage from 2010. And 48 percent of those students said the mobile site experience bettered their view of the campus, according to a survey conducted by higher-education consulting company Noel-Levitz and the National Research Center for College & University Admissions.

Two percent of student respondents said their mobile site perusing hurt their perception of the college or university.

Only 4 percent of students who used a mobile device to view a college’s site used a tablet. More than nine in 10 students used a smart phone, meaning schools should “optimize” their mobile-specific sites for the phones’ small screens, according to the survey, “The Mobile Browsing Behaviors of College-Bound High School Students.”

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The mainstreaming of mobile sites among prospective college students and the relative cost-effectiveness of building websites designed specifically for iPhones, Androids, and BlackBerrys could put the development of traditional sites—accessed by laptops and desktops—on higher education’s back burner, wrote Doug Gapinski, a technology blogger.

In fact, more Americans will access the internet through a smart phone or tablet than via desktop computer by 2015, according to a September report from International Data Corporation (IDC).

“We will soon be living in an age where more people are accessing the internet via mobile than on desktop computers,” Gapinski wrote. “Now is the time to deploy a first-generation mobile solution, start measuring how people are using it, and iterate the site effectively over time.”

Perhaps most alarming for schools competing for incoming students: According to West Virginia University (WVU) programmer Dave Olsen, nine in 10 colleges don’t have a mobile website.