How are Dot Edu’s Using the Internet?

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In 1997 Michael Stoner, Vice President for New Media at Lipman Hearne, a non-profit media and marketing consulting firm with over 120 higher education clients, argued that colleges need "adequate and professional" Web sites. Colleges in the New England (NEASC) and Middle States (MSCAS) accrediting regions may have met the adequacy test. Between January 25, 2000 and April 06, 2000 I used, Yahoo, NEASC, Alta Vista and MSACS to find that 95% of the 778 institutions accredited by New England Association of Schools and Colleges and Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools operated Web sites. Stoner and Monroy (2000) emphasize the importance of relevant and useful information for internal (current students, faculty, administrators and staff) and external (prospective students and parents, alumni, donors, media and visitors) users. Monroy (2000) contends that colleges face a plethora of challenges in meeting the needs of multiple audiences. He quotes the dean of admission at Case Western Reserve who acknowledges that "higher education Web sites are fundamentally flawed." Evidently, colleges have met the adequacy, but not the professional challenge.

I examined the Web pages of 40 institutions in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Washington DC. [what criteria did you use to select these colleges?] The data are displayed in Table 1. They show that though these colleges are doing a respectable job providing access to information for prospective users, the primary mode of display continues to be text, still photographs and graphics.

Table I


% of institutions using

E-mail contacts




News and Events


Business and government


On-line application


On-line registration


On-line bookstore


Access to academic records


On-line courses/Programs




Virtual tour


Alumni Access/Update of data


Opportunities to donate


On-line Billing


Non English Language Text


 Internal Users

Internet-savvy students expect on-line services such as registration, schedule of current offerings, report cards, and account retrieval links at their respective colleges. They find the academic catalogue on every college’s Website, but this information is limited and dated. Virtually all sites have program information, faculty information, and sometimes direct e-mail links to faculty and staff. Some colleges have schedules of the current course offerings. Yet, only 20% offer on-line registration. Institutions like D’Youville College, Wor-Wic Community College, Passaic County Community College, County College of Morris, Erie Community College, Hilbert College, Hofstra University, Pennsylvania State System, Delaware County Community College, American College and Kean University . UMASS Boston, like Delaware County Community College allow secure access to academic records. This direct access to grades and transcripts was a feature common to only 20% of the institutions. Nevertheless, a majority of colleges including Mercy College and Kean University allow students to update personal information by contacting the registrar via e-mail.

Aside from academic and student services such as the hours of operation for campus health clinics and labs, students could shop at online bookstores at Hofstra University, The Julliard School, Saint Francis College, American College and Pennsylvania College of Technology. Forty-five percent of colleges had online bookstores. Some, like Tompkins Cortland Community College use the e Network to provide this service. Yet, many of these same colleges did not allow on-line payment for tuition and other services. Instead, colleges like Delaware Valley College linked students to a sites such as Academic Management Services (AMS), an agency that does short term financing. Financial transactions via the web are a complex e-commerce issue. Institutions with this capability must essentially maintain a 24-hour operation or risk the wrath of irate parents, students and others.

Faculty, administrators, and staff now rely on their institution's Web sites to provide calendars, newsletters, library services, job postings/human resource links, help desk services, staff directories, faculty home pages, on-line syllabi and other forms of updates. Roger Williams University and U Mass Dartmouth have links on the start page, which are designated for faculty and staff. Embedded in these links are the services for this group of users. Other institutions offer a similar array of services, but most institutions simply list each service as individual links instead of a larger subset called faculty and staff. Regardless of the structure and content of the staff sites, college personnel may now transact business with colleagues, students, and third parties from locations other than their private on-campus desktops.

External Users

Institutions are using the Web as a vehicle for marketing. Marketing information is typically targeted to prospective students and parents, donors, alumni, and various corporate entities and community organizations. These users require a myriad of information including on-line applications, program costs, existing and projected programs, availability of on-line or alternative instruction methods, reputation with regard to rankings, quality of faculty, graduation rates, class size, SAT scores, availability of conferencing services, past client references and institutional contacts. Additionally, corporate sponsors, donors and alumni seek the means to make financial contributions, and evidence that donor funds are used for capital and other improvements and additions.

Bryn Mawr College, Bucknell University, Carnegie Mellon University, Drexel University, Mercyhurst College, the University of Sciences in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania College of Technology are examples of institutions that illuminate links for prospective students, parents, alumni, and friends. 100 percent of the colleges in this survey permit e-mail contact with admissions to request application material, receive guided campus tours or arrange for appointments with admission counselors. American International College, Amherst College, Anna Maria College, Drexel University, Valley Forge Military Academy and College, College Miscericordia, Hofstra University, D’Youville College, and Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Keystone College among others, are part of the 80% of institutions accepting on-line applications. Stoner (1997) reported that while 60% of colleges have Web applications only 3% were receiving 10% of their applications online. Unless this trend changes considerably, colleges may need to reconsider whether the resources expended in this area is warranted.

In addition to academic information, prospective students look for financial aid, tuition and freshmen profiles. Brown University allows prospects to link directly to financial aid sites and (Brown University) permits applicants to e-mail current students. Colleges, such as Saint Francis College, Lafayette, York College, Lebanon Valley College, Babson College, Roger Williams University and Cedar Crest College also prominently display their most recent favorable rankings in Barron’s or U.S. News and World Report. Saint Francis College notes that it is among the top colleges where upon graduating, students have very little debt. The depth and the scope of such services offered to prospective students vary vastly.

Continuing education students and corporate organizations may find the Web useful as they try to decode the seemingly endless offerings of distance education options. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 1998, 1,680 institutions offered 54,000 online courses to over 1.6 million students. [not in reference section] The rise in the number of online courses and programs suggest that institutions regard these activities as important and possibly lucrative. Though many institutions display links to their distance education centers, distance education is not synonymous with online. There are differences in what institutions market as distance education. For example, The Community College of Allegheny County lists under distance learning--telecourses, Internet courses, and live televised courses. Eastern College’s distance education options are Internet-based courses. Widener University’s program is not online. It is entirely over television or "via videocassette rental." Institutions offering courses only, and not programs, are in their infancy stages with online technology. They primarily offer introductory courses. In this sample 50% of the institutions offered on-line courses or programs. NCES found that in 1997, 79% of public four-year and 72% of public two-year institutions offered distance-education courses while only 22 and 6% of four-year and two-year private institutions had such offerings. Public institutions appear to be at the forefront with Internet courses and programs.

Alumni and donors are another significant sector of Web users. Colleges provide information on upcoming events such as alumni gatherings, fundraisers, special events and athletic events. Through the Web, alumni update personal information, e-mail alumni representative, add the addresses of "missing" alumni, find classmates, or pledge donations. SUNY New Paltz, Brown University, American International College, Babson College, Baltimore Hebrew University (BHU) and Cedar Crest College are among the 75% who make these options available. These electronic links are pivotal in aiding institutions as they try to maintain current databases of their alumni and successfully compete for donor support. The Web is crucial as one more medium for colleges to generate exposure, attract new business and stay current with alumni, donors and constituents, but great care is necessary to assure that the news information, press releases, contacts and links are current and relevant. Stoner (1997) indicates "many organizations neglect to have a maintenance plan to keep their sites up-to-date." In addition, they need to be vigilant about the currency of their information.

The Future

In the final analysis, colleges and universities can be applauded for their decisiveness, acceptance, and continued development of the Internet. Though every site is different, each delivers some relevant user information. Unfortunately, some Web pages are mere extensions of the academic catalogs that describe programs and courses. Web designers and administrators must be more creative. For example, Baltimore Hebrew University (BHU) with an enrollment of 286 students has a very modest Web site, with black and white graphics and pictures. Yet, one gets the impression that a great deal of creativity and a clear focus led to its development. It contains 10 links, a ticker that provides news and a link that says "Help Support BHU." SUNY New Paltz, Keystone College, Anna Maria College and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary also have scrolling tickers, but BHU’s and Keystone’s cannot be easily overlooked. Tompkins Cortland Community College stands alone. It is the only college in this study that provides a Spanish text option. Colleges post messages from their respective presidents in plain text with a picture of the president. Why not enhance the messages with video and audio? Such is the case at Adelphi University and Marywood University. Rhode Island College, Brown University and Adelphi University are part of the 35 percent that offer virtual tours.[looks like part of a sentence is missing here; do Adelphi et al offer tours or do they just have video and audio messages?]  Many of the tours are still photos that download as one navigates through the campus. Enhanced virtual tours help those who cannot afford multiple visits or even single visits to campuses. The use of live video cam would give visitors a sense of the weather, the atmosphere, and the surroundings of the campus. Cornell University produces live video and audio of its famous chimes. Technologically, higher education is pointed in the right direction heading into the next millennium, but there is still a great deal of uncharted and unused territory. Institutions like Marywood University, Adelphi University, Brown University, Tompkins Cortland Community College and Cornell University are leaders as they provide one or more of on-line chat services for prospective students, audio, video, virtual tours, multiple on-line services, alternatives to English [resolve the contradiction: above you said that only Tompkins had an alternative to English] and live video. "The medium is not the message in a digital world" (Negroponte, 1995 p. 71). Though many users still have systems that are incapable of or are slow when downloading large images and audio, Web architects, designers and administrators must be creative, expressive and find enlightened ways to increase access and options for internal and external audiences. Simple extensions and emanations of text based designs are fast becoming outmoded.


[need to be put in APA style. Eliminate any references not used in the text.]

Brooks, David R. (1997) Web-Teaching: A Guide to Designing Interactive Teaching for the World Wide Web Innovations in Science Education and Technology. New York: Plenum Press.

Monroy, Tom (2000). Colleges get bad grades for Web sites. ZDNet: Inter@ctive Week. 1-4 Retrieved July 19, 2000 on the World Wide Web: wysiwyg://1,4164,2558936,00.html

Negroponte, Nicholas (1995) Being Digital. New York: Alfred A. Knopf

Stoner, M. (1997). Taking a professional approach to web development. NET Results Issue 2: July 1997, 1-4. Retrieved July 19, 2000 on the World Wide Web: