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Client The University of Texas Permian Basin
Disciplines Research, Design & Content, Web Development

The University of Texas Permian Basin

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“U.S. colleges and universities are segregating into winners and losers—with winners growing and expanding and losers seeing the first signs of a death spiral.”

Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2018

On a map, the University of Texas Permian Basin seems situated in the middle of a vast geographic and academic desert. The land is flat. The summers scorch. And besides, don’t high-school students want to go to a college that’s modern and urban and Instagram-worthy?

That’s one reason UTPB came to Mighty Citizen: to remind Texas—and the world—that they’re a modern, surprisingly urban, Instagram-worthy institution that just happens to sit atop the largest supply of energy on the planet.

But there was even more at stake. UTPB aims to double the number of degrees it offers within 10 years, and they want their digital footprint to help drive them there. So we partnered closely with their leadership to deliver:

  • Messaging
  • Enhanced Branding & Visual Identity
  • Content Governance
  • Website Design
  • Copywriting
  • Fixing the Falcon Shuffle

    “The Falcon Shuffle” is UTPB’s internal shorthand for the frustration students feel when they can’t get their questions answered. The shuffle looked something like this:

    • Student wants to know how to change their minor.
    • Student opens the UTPB website.
    • Student fails to find an answer.
    • Student calls the wrong department, who tells them which department to call.
    • Student calls that department, finds out they need to fill out a form, which unfortunately isn’t available on the website.
    • And so on…

    This shuffle isn’t unique to UTPB. Most universities are decentralized, and internal communication often stops at the office door. But UTPB’s old website exacerbated the problem by offering incomplete and inaccurate information.

    To help alleviate the pain students (and parents) felt, we offered three solutions:

    First, we built their website using the philosophy of C.O.P.E.—Create Once, Publish Everywhere. If an important piece of content—e.g., a professor’s office number—changed, UTPB’s web team would update it in one place in their CMS, but it would change in the 4-5 places it appears across the website.

    Second, we included a “common question module,” which looks like this:

    UTPB.edu’s new “common question module” helps students find answers with ease.

    When a student selects a question from the drop-down menu, they’re instantly redirected to the page on the site that contains their answer. UTPB’s web team can create as many questions as they want, allowing them to respond quickly to new issues.

    Third, UTPB can insert a “contact information module” almost anywhere on their site. The contact module pulls info from the main university directory, so if contact info is updated there (once) it pushes those updates automatically to every contact module on the site. And it helps ensure that students are calling or emailing the right person and not being shuffled on to someone new.

    Smaller is Better

    Confronted with the prospect of the Wall Street Journal’s so-called “death spiral,” most schools—public and private, big and small—believe they should create a brand of “bigness.” They assume the best way to increase enrollment and improve the mix of applicants is to craft an identity that claims, “We are a giant school full of giant opportunities. Come here. Please.”

    With UTPB, we went in the opposite direction. Because bigger isn’t always better. When it comes to college, it’s often worse.

    Bigger means each student is a smaller portion of the community. Bigger means more hoops to jump through and pitfalls to avoid. Bigger means less face time with professors and advisors. Bigger means greater competition—for jobs, for attention, for opportunities. (Not to mention the fact that many of UTPB’s prospective students come from smaller communities and are more likely to thrive in a smaller setting.)

    The first major deliverable of the project was a Messaging Platform—a document that details how the University should talk and think about itself. In it, we helped UTPB determine how to embrace and celebrate their size.

    The new messaging platform will help UTPB make consistent content updates to their website and other platforms in the future.

    To emphasize UTPB’s small, high-touch, personalized student experience, we worked with UTPB to identify a content marketing strategy that emphasized:

    • Student-friendly user experiences (more on that below)
    • Student stories that highlight their unique backgrounds
    • Why and how UTPB alumni land lucrative, fulfilling jobs

    Selling Life After Graduation

    Did we mention that UT Permian Basin sits atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves? Because it does. And with that sort of energy comes a buffet of high-paying, sustainable jobs across a variety of industries and sectors—e.g., engineering, transportation, finance, hospitality, health care, etc.

    No university is better positioned to feed West Texas’ appetite for employees than UTPB. Perhaps UTPB’s biggest differentiator, even more than their size, is how well Falcons are doing in the booming West Texas job market.

    But their previous messaging and website weren’t flexible enough to make that clear to prospective students.

    That’s all changed now. Now, the moment a user lands on the new UTPB website, they immediately see and read about how specific, recently graduated Falcons are jumping to the head of the pack in their careers.

    UTPB’s impact stories section.

    How Students Actually Pick a Major

    Too many universities plop their internal structure—i.e., how they think of themselves as an organization—onto their website. It’s an easy cut-and-paste job that ignores how students think about their future when perusing a website.

    Consider this college (which will remain anonymous):

    This is not—we repeat, this is NOT UTPB’s—website. It’s an example of how most universities arrange their degree information online: according to the school’s internal hierarchies instead of how students actually want to peruse them.

    If you’re a student who’s curious about majoring in History, from the school’s homepage you must first click on “Academics,” then “Colleges and Schools,” then “COLABS” (whatever that is), then “History/Geography/General Studies,” before finally click onto the page for an undergrad History major.

    That’s five clicks. You lost them around click two. (Not to mention the supremely bland stock photo of a diploma that dominates the top-half of the page.)

    Students couldn’t care less about how UTPB is structured internally. Hierarchies and org charts aren’t only boring to them; they’re irrelevant.

    To offer an online experience that mirrors students’ habits, we did two things:

    1. Designed a Natural Degree Search

    When students visit the “All Degrees & Programs” page, they’re able to slice and dice the massive content in any number of ways:

    UTPB’s filterable degree page layout.

    Users can filter by undergraduate or graduate degrees or certificate programs. Users can type in the name of the subject they’re interested in and the list immediately filters in real time. Users can see “online only” degrees by checking a single box. And at a glance, users can see what kinds of degrees and specializations exist within each academic program.

    This is how people want to browse their future.

    2. Added a “Degree Explorer” to the Homepage

    Just below the “fold” of the UTPB homepage, users can begin digging into the degrees they’re curious about. We call it a “Degree Explorer” and it looks like this:

    The Degree Explorer will help prospective students learn more about the programs UTPB has to offer.

    Using the drop-down menu within each general academic area, users can be instantly navigated to the relevant degree subpage to learn more (and apply).

    Turning Prospects into Falcons

    Choosing a university is a “high-consideration” decision. Students take months to pick where they’ll spend their next years. Along the way, there are milestones; together, these milestones constitute a user journey. One of the first steps in this journey is visiting the UTPB website. But once there, how do we get these prospective Falcons to take the next step?

    Our solution is a call-to-action module, which appears on (almost) every other page of the site. UTPB decides where it goes. It looks like this:

    Site visitors will have several clear-cut ways to interact with the site to meet their needs.

    “Apply” is the ultimate goal. But before they’re ready for that commitment, students can select two lower-stakes options: “Request Information” and “Visit.” Now, UTPB can track conversions on all three options.

    Accessibility

    Websites should be usable by every person, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Sadly, far too many higher-ed websites aren’t accessible—i.e., they’re confusing for users who, because they have a sensory challenge like visual impairment, need assistive technologies like screen readers.

    As with every website we build, UTPB adheres to the most common accessibility standards, WCAG AA. While it’s ultimately up to the website administrator to ensure accessibility remains a priority, we’ve crafted a website that makes it easy.

    Content Governance

    Even the tiniest universities are complex, dynamic institutions. Facts change quickly; website content grows stale in a flash. Without a content governance plan, any school will find itself playing an endless game of catch-up. And while they’re playing that game, students grow confused and irritated.

    UT Permian Basin knew this; they understood that launching a big, beautiful new website is far easier than keeping it big and beautiful.

    So we helped them craft a Content Governance Plan—a detailed document that includes sections titled:

    • Content Style Guide
    • Workflow for New Content
    • Workflow for Removing & Archiving Content
    • Content Calendar
    • Website Council Structure

    With these new policies in place, UTPB is poised to take total, structured control of their website—ensuring that visitors now and long into the future receive the most helpful content available.

    UTPB’s content governance plan.

    Striking it Rich

    By student population, UT Permian Basin is the smallest of the nine schools in The University of Texas System. But in terms of professional opportunity, clear messaging, and content sophistication, they’re now one of the mightiest. It’s our honor to have flown for awhile with the Falcons, and we look forward to watching them solidify their position as one of those “winning universities” in the years ahead.

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