Departmental Web sites are an essential tool in the recruitment and retention of top graduate students, according to a faculty panel at a recent seminar sponsored by the Graduate School as part of its Initiative to Optimize Doctoral Completion.
The seminar, “Designing Program Web Sites to Attract the Best Doctoral Students,” held Sept. 10 at the Tate Student Center, was led by four UGA faculty leaders who had recently guided the revamping of their departments’ Web sites. Discussion with the 80 faculty attendees provided insights into selecting the most relevant information and user-friendly format for programs to reach prospective graduate students.
Research indicates that well-designed Web sites for attracting successful doctoral students should provide applicants with information that will answer three critical questions: Will this doctoral program match my interests and career objectives? Do I have the skills needed to meet the academic demands of this program? Will I have the resources to complete the
“In these times of tightening resources, one aspect of program excellence that is becoming increasingly important is doctoral completion,” said Maureen Grasso, dean of the Graduate School. “I am asking the members of the Graduate faculty to rethink old ways of doing things, because every student counts. Although UGA fares better than the national average, doctoral noncompletion is a crucial issue with the Graduate School and helping applicants be realistic about the demands of doctoral study is something faculty can do through their Web sites.”
Panelists Jody Clay-Warner, an associate professor of sociology; Kevin DeWeaver, a professor of social work; Dana Bultman, an associate professor of Romance languages; and Rodney Mauricio, an associate professor of genetics, addressed, respectively, the following specific points regarding their Web sites: explaining the application process, sharing student and program-specific resources and presenting biographical data on faculty, students and alumni of the programs.
The panelists emphasized the importance of including both faculty and students in making decisions about the most appropriate content to include on a program’s Web site.
“Good students expect good Web sites,” said Clay-Warner. “Students are increasingly sophisticated with technology and will go somewhere else if they can’t find the information on your Web site.”
Mauricio said, “I actually had a student tell me he came to UGA’s genetics program in spite of our [old] Web site.”
When renovating their Web site, faculty in the genetics department decided to focus on the recruitment of potential graduate students and remove barriers such as UGA-specific jargon, clutter, repetition of information and unimportant details. At the seminar, Mauricio recommended that departments stay disciplined in keeping focused on the goal of their Web site and accept that, although it can serve multiple functions, it can not effectively be everything to everyone.
Web sites, however, can be especially useful in letting prospective students know what to expect by presenting realistic timelines for degree completion, frequently asked questions sections and even seemingly unpleasant realities.
“On our Web site we tell students that if they’re going to drop out, it will happen in the first semester,” said DeWeaver. “So those who get past that milestone know they’re going to make it.”
All panelists agreed that adhering to a student-centered approach when revamping a Web site should be a priority. Panelist Bultman reminded the group that nothing important should be more than three clicks away.
“Web sites are the principal interface in the 21st century for individuals considering graduate school,” said Larry Millard, a professor in the Lamar Dodd School of Art, after the seminar. He also emphasized the importance of using compelling graphics and images in this visually-based medium.
The Graduate School Initiative for Optimal Doctoral Completion is a three-year project designed to keep faculty members informed about doctoral completions in order to improve completion rates.
Other seminars planned for the academic year by the Graduate School include admitting the best doctoral students, fostering productive student-adviser relationship and improving peer support among doctoral students- all conditions that must be addressed to optimize doctoral completion.