For any Liberian university looking to increase its external outreach, the internet has proved to be an accommodating platform. University websites serve as digital portfolios in which students, academic donors, and other visitors can learn about what the institution has to offer.
Prospective students may want to find out as much as possible about a college without having to visit a physical location, saving money and time on an unnecessary visit. Having useful information available online can help showcase a school’s programs and resources. The presence of comprehensive information can allow for a better evaluation of the programs and colleges. When students do not have the right information, they cannot optimize their college selection to match their educational or career goals while considering the costs.
For current students, knowing about the type and location of resources on campus may be instrumental in helping them get through the courses and acclimate themselves to the college environment. Current students could also look to use their college’s website to access their professors’ and administrators’ contact information.
Additionally, potential donors may want to see what their money would be supporting if they were to sponsor a student or a program at the college. Donors will probably also wish to have access to frequently updated information on projects and events to judge if the school’s activities continue to warrant their support.
Criteria and Ranking
With the potential that online branding has to build or halt investments, one would assume that Liberian institutions of higher learning would have a wealth of information on their websites. Schools that have computer science or IT programs are especially advantaged, and definitely expected, to leverage their online platform.
To answer how well Liberian universities’ websites serve their intended users, the table below shows a ranking of the best websites along with their performance for each criterion. The universities profiled include African Bible College University or ABC, African Methodist Episcopal University or AME, A.M.E. Zion University or AME Zion, Cuttington University, Stella Maris Polytechnic, William V.S. Tubman University, and United Methodist University.
The criteria selected for this review were chosen to allow for an unbiased judgment. Therefore, any subjective aspects such as style or design were ignored. In selecting the criteria, particular attention was given to the people who could benefit from having access to comprehensive information about colleges and the type of information they might expect. These stakeholders fell into the three categories mentioned earlier – prospective students, current students, and potential donors. A full explanation of the methodology is detailed below.
As shown on the table, even the highest ranking universities did not perform particularly well. Some universities whose websites seemed appealing at first glance – Cuttington and Tubman – had many blank pages and broken links. Although they both ranked in the top 5, it was only because the rest of the websites were outdated.
It is notable that half of the sites did not show any signs of an update within the past year. In fact, the University of Liberia’s website had not been updated since the previous university president, who served three years ago, was in office. If the school were able to allow such a fallacy, students visiting these sites are likely to find other outdated information on school costs and courses offered, among other things.
The date of the most recent posting was the single most important criterion because it reflects the frequency in which the school updates the public about its recent changes. For example, Cuttington University recently started offering a Communications major. This is crucial information that could open up the university to more prospective students, if only potential communications students were aware of the change.
Furthermore, at the time of the search, no website posted the academic calendar for the current year, 2014-2015. Fittingly, there was not a single site that mentioned the Ebola outbreak or provided students with information on how to cope. However, it is worth asking whether these schools should be blamed when the Ministry of Education’s very own website appeared to not have been updated since 2013. Other information that was entirely missing from all sites included profiles of professors and student body statistics.
Another observation is that only three of the eight universities had a listing of courses offered and of those, only one – AME Zion – provided descriptions of the courses. Additionally, it is interesting that in a country where many people experience financial hardships, half of the websites did not provide information on the costs of attending the school. The same amount also did not post any information about financial aid or scholarships.
Response from Schools:
Surprisingly, one of the top two performers, AME, does not currently offer any information and communications technology courses or major although the school does intend to introduce it in the near future. Tubman does offer two semesters of computer science literacy in its General Education program and plans to introduce a software engineering course.
When asked about the absence of crucial information from their websites, representatives from both AME and Tubman, the only two universities to respond to inquiries, noted that these sections of their website was still in development.
The president of AME, Joseph T. Isaac, explained the lack of an updated calendar in an email by stating, “We have an updated academic calendar; however, due to the Ebola crisis and the closure of schools in Liberia, the academic calendar has undergone various revisions with an extended uncertainty of the reopening of schools. Therefore, the University has decided to not post the current version of the academic calendar until the date to resume classes has been established, and a final version of the calendar is derived.”
Since the initial contact with the schools, AME has updated their website to include information about the new school calendar. Tubman’s Rita Townsend, Vice President for Institutional Advancement, acknowledged the importance of having such information and indicated that the school would soon get those published.
The ranking was conducted by first separating the institutions by the year last updated. The websites were ranked in the order of those having the highest amount of criteria satisfied, beginning with the most recent year (2014). In this way, the site from the earliest year fulfilling the most number of the criteria would be ranked #1. The criteria used in this review are all listed below, along with the specific questions asked.
Course Listing: Does the website show a listing of courses offered at the university? There is no requirement in the criteria for the list of courses to have a summary of each course.
Programs and Degrees: Does the website provide information about specific programs and degrees offered at the institution?
Tuitions and Fees: Does the website have information on the cost of attending a university?
Scholarships and Financial Aid: Does the website provide any information on whether scholarships and financial aid are available?
Application Available Online: Can a visitor to the website obtain the application to attend?
Online Application Submittal: Can a visitor submit the application online?
Profiles of Professors: Are there detailed information about all professors, along with their qualifications?
Current Academic Calendar: Does the website provide the academic calendar for the 2014-2015 year?
Professors/Administrators Contacts: Does the website display phone or email contacts of professors and other school officials?
Campus Resources: Does the website present information on what resources are available (library, career coaching, or gym) and where to find them?
Student Body Statistics: Can information on student demographics, graduation rates and other similar statistics be found on the website?
Showcase Students and Professors: Is there any mention of the work or activities in which students and professors are engaged?
Search Engine Position: When an institution’s full name and “Liberia” are searched for on Google, is the institution’s website the first result?
Mobile Website: Does the website have a mobile version that’s optimized for viewing on phones and tablets? Since the majority of Liberians are accessing the internet via phones, having a website is not enough if it cannot be easily viewed.
Does domain name reflect educational institution: Does the domain name contain .edu.lr? This is important because it provides immediate legitimacy to a visitor to know that this is a website for an institution of higher learning.
Last Updated: What year was the website last updated, based on dated information posted on the website?
Featured image courtesy of Kipp Jones