by Dr. Ellie Bruecker
Please note: The purpose of this post is not to critique particular states or schools, but to highlight how small oversights in web design impact students. And web design is actually very hard. The good news about this issue is that it can be easily — and inexpensively! — addressed.
For this second installment of our #TransitTuesdays, we thought we’d share a little more about the process of building the CASL dataset. You can read more about CASL and our journey through community college websites in an earlier Footnotes post.
In our search, we found that very few state government or college system websites list branch or satellite campus locations. Usually they list only the main campus and address, so we had to assemble and verify the CASL data by visiting each school website and verifying (or generating) the address through Google Maps.
The choice by governments and colleges to make branch and satellite locations difficult to identify puts prospective college students — especially returning adult students — in a tough spot. Students tend not to stray too far from home when searching for a college, and might be discouraged by the distance to a main campus without realizing that a branch campus is much closer. A centralized landing page with all college locations listed could help returning adult students easily compare their options.
Our CASL dataset is a tool designed primarily for researchers and policymakers, rather than students searching for nearby college options, so we haven’t solved this problem for the millions of students considering community college and looking for locations near their homes/jobs/childcare.
I’m including some of the outtakes — or footnotes — from the CASL data process below, to illustrate what students looking for campus locations will see during their search.
Maps of all locations
The states that did identify all college locations (including branch campuses and satellite locations) did so in the form of maps. The Alabama Community College System provides a map of all locations, even differentiating main campuses and satellite locations by color. But to get their addresses, users need to hover over each individual location on the map. This model is likely very student-friendly; a prospective student viewing the map can look in their general area, select the location they’re interested in, and navigate to the college’s website. But as a researcher, a downloadable list would save lots of time hovering, copying, and pasting!
North Carolina Community Colleges similarly map their main campuses and remote locations, followed by a list of the names of the colleges and locations, along with phone numbers, college presidents, and cities — but alas, no addresses!
Lists of colleges with main campus addresses
Most commonly, states listed all of these colleges, but included only the address for the main campus. California Community Colleges, for example, has an alphabetical listing of each of their colleges, and the main campus address. Helpfully, they also have a searchable map to help students find the colleges nearest to them. But again, this only includes main campuses and excludes other campuses and locations where students could take courses.
Standardized college websites
Some states, though they didn’t list all locations on their website, had uniform individual college websites, making the hunt for addresses much simpler. For example, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System lists all of its colleges on one page, with links directed to the homepage of each college.
From there, each college has an About page, which leads to a Campuses page, which lists the locations and addresses.
Non-standardized college websites
Other states’ colleges are not uniformly designed. Many colleges (kindly) list their locations at the bottom of the home page, like Broward College in Florida.
Others have landing pages that list their campuses and their addresses, like Florida’s Valencia College.
No lists, no addresses, no maps… no hope?
What we found most surprising were the states that simply had no listing of their community and technical colleges at all. This is maybe understandable in states where colleges are decentralized and don’t operate in a system — like in Oregon, which coincidentally does keep a state government webpage that lists and links to all its colleges.
As a researcher trying to verify all the locations of all college campuses in a given state, I have been relying on a federal dataset to identify individual colleges. But when prospective students searching for such a list will come up empty, and they’re a little less likely to go search IPEDS.