Portion of research poster on media richness of university websites

N.C. A&T study finds college websites lacking media richness

April 20, 2012

The home pages of many university websites need revamping if they are going to be successful at recruiting high school students in the future, according to a study conducted by researchers at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

Researchers examined 94 of 100 university home pages for evidence of media-rich content in the top banner and middle sections of their sites. The top banner and middle sections are the first places most people look at when they visit a website, according to several studies.

The list of sites was obtained from studentadvisor.com, which is owned by The Washington Post Company. It is used by parents and high school students as a resource when searching for colleges and universities to attend.

Studentadvisor had selected the sites for their effective use of social media. The researchers at A&T focused on the content on the university home pages because they represent a 24-hour gateway to a university and play a crucial role in recruiting.

University websites ranked second to campus visits as the source for high school students researching colleges, according to one study. University home pages are the second place students stop after a Google search, according to another.

Media richness proposes that media content that closely resembles face-to-face communication will likely be engaging, especially among high school students who are attracted to interactive content.

Videos, for example, are a richer medium than text because videos involve more than one sense, hearing and sight. Next to face-to-face communication, videos are the second most powerful example of media richness.

The study found that while 66% of the homepages had rotating pictures on the top banner or middle sections of their sites, 93% of them had no videos embedded in those locations.

In addition, none of the sites took advantage of other types of interactive, "media rich" content, such as audio soundslides, mapping programs or timelines to improve interactivity. In fact, 31% of the sites had static pictures and text, evidence of low media richness.

If university home pages don't increase the media richness of their sites, they stand to lose students in the high-stakes recruiting game, said the researchers.

The study was conducted by Adrian Gray, a junior in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro. N.C. He is from Elizabeth City, N.C. Gray was assisted in this content analysis by journalism professors Kim Smith, Ph.D., and Arthea Perry, MFA Their study won first place in the university’s annual Undergraduate Research Day poster competition.

The research poster can be viewed here.