Technologists: Colleges must adjust to the multi-screen world

“This is the reason why the responsive approach, whether it is applied to design or to content, makes so much sense, as it lets institutions customize the experience for the device used at a specific point in the ‘conversation’ between the user and your institutional digital presence,” she said.

The Google research, which noted that 77 percent of respondents said they viewed another screen while watching TV, encouraged marketers to avoid focusing on one web format.

“Sequential screeners will start interacting with you on one device and then pick up where they left off on another, so making experiences seamless between devices is key,” the study said.

Perfecting RWD, of course, has proven highly technical.

Using proportion-based grids to create the site, words, and images can adapt to the layout of a viewing environment, or display. This lets colleges create sites that don’t have to be presented in a more basic form to be viewed on smart phones, for instance.

The proliferation of smart phones and tablets has mainstreamed mobile internet use—once the domain of the most tech-savvy students and faculty members on campus.

An inadequate mobile site could cost colleges prospective students.

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. Forty-eight 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.

And more Americans will access the internet through a smart phone or tablet than via desktop computer by 2015, according to a 2011 report from International Data Corp.