Lately, I have received several emails asking me about my experiences as a higher education administrator and regarding my experiences as someone who has graduated from a college student services administration graduate program. I decided to attempt to answer all of them in a giant college student services / higher education administrator, question/answer blog post. The questions were sent to me via email, Twitter and Facebook. I’ve taken out the identifying bits of info and hopefully, some of my answers will be useful to folks who are thinking about working in higher education or pursuing a graduate degree in higher education administration / college student services…
The official title of my OSU Graduate Assistantship is “Student Affairs Web Specialist.” Here are a few of the projects that I have worked on since I arrived in Corvallis in 2004.
OSU Admissions old
When I first started my assistantship at OSU, the Admissions web site looked like this:
The site was in need of an overhaul. The first few months of my assistantship were spent fighting fires. Various issues would arise that would need taking care of, and a complete overhaul of the Admissions web site would not happen for a long time.
OSU International Admissions
The primary project that I was assigned to was managing the re-design of the International Admissions web site (the version that is currently up is a progression from last year’s design.).
The International Admissions web site was re-designed using web standards and user feedback. The site was easy to navigate and loaded quickly due to its css-based layout.
The re-designed International Admissions web site received positive reviews from the OSU community and from several external audiences.
Eric Stoller’s Blog
Initially, the ESB was used to house my technology workshop lessons/links. The focus shifted when I decided that the blog could serve as my portfolio for CSSA as well as a personal journal. I blogged about life, school, and work. Eventually, my social justice posts became the primary focus of the blog. I think this is probably due to the fact that my passion for social justice came to the forefront of my life while I was in the midst of a life changing experience. I built the blog using WordPress. The theme was a free theme that I shaped to my own devices. I’ve added plugins for subscribers and recent comments/posts. The flexibility of a css-based design has allowed me to change colors, font sizes, etc. The php include construction of WordPress enabled me to add search functionality and comment functionality to posts/pages where it did not normally appear by default.
I was given this project as a quick and easy web re-design. The folks over at OSU Precollege needed a web presence that reflected a consistent look and feel of the overall OSU web. I utilized a template from OSU Publications and created a basic web site.
The biggest challenge with this project was the lack of “client” communication. The site was created by yours truly in a design vacuum. It’s not usually the way I would like to work. I prefer a collaborative process in which stakeholder involvement drives the project. The previous Precollege site had not been updated for a long time, and I fear that the current site design will exist for far to long. Unfortunately, I think this reflects the belief that as long as a site is online it is functioning. I believe this creates a static, cob web ridden presence that does not involve the actual users of the site.
This site was designed by an external vendor but I had a large role in the accessibility and usability of the site. The site was initially constructed in a format that was deemed to be boring for its intended audience. First-year students need a site that encourages participation as well as incentives for return visits.
I learned a lot about working with an external vendor on this project. There was a lot of planning, communicating, designing, and thinking that went into this project. The final project was accessible as well as standards compliant. The student response was very favorable and the site differed from similar sites.
A blog was created to compliment the student OSU Success site. Students were selected from the orientation staff and trained in the art of blogging. Site statistics showed that we did not have the best results with regards to visitors. However, I believe that the blog was a great experience for the student writers as well as for the students who read it.
OSU Success for Parents and Family
A companion site for Parents and Family was created to compliment the student version. Parents and family were given content which was relevant to their experience. The site design that was used was simple and easy to use. Once again, the site was accessible and highly usable.
While working with the OSU Success vendor, I became aware that the amount of email correspondence was becoming unmanageable. I had recently discovered the 37 Signals project management application: Basecamp. OSU staff and the external vendor utilized Basecamp for file transfer, deadline creation, and intergroup communications. The tool became an online archive for everyone on the project. Basecamp became a key component to our overall communications and project management strategy.
I’m really glad that I suggested Basecamp. For me, this clearly represented how online applications can be used to streamline group processes and communications.
OSU Graduate School
OSU Publications designed a new web site for the OSU Graduate School. I stepped in and was able to manage the interface between the folks from Publications and the Graduate School. I taught the GS folks how to update the new site as well as how to navigate a site that was structured using css and includes.
The Graduate School now uses online forms for a variety of data transmission functions. This should save them a lot of time, money and effort. The new GS site and online forms provides a heightened user experience for student users due to increased accessibility, usability, and functionality.
OSU Admissions new
The OSU Admissions web site re-design project was a terrific experience. It was a collaborative experience in which OSU Publications and OSU Admissions joined forces to create a standards compliant, user-friendly site. The site utilizes css and includes. We focused a lot on separation of content from the design. The new site includes a blog that has received a lot of visits. Written by an Admissions staffer, the blog showcases OSU Admissions as well as the accomplishments of the OSU community. I created the blog using WordPress (my personal blogging experience enabled me to set up the blog). The Admissions template encloses the new blog so that the user experience is seamless. The new Admissions site continues to grow and search engine optimization will increase as the site expands.
OSU Document Management Project
The OSU DMP is using a blog (another WordPress blog that I created) to transmit information to key stakeholders as well as enable users to interact with the site. The project is enormous in scope and will utilize the blog to maintain a constant stream of communication with users.
OSU Student Affairs
I am in charge of re-designing the OSU Student Affairs web site. The current version (pictured below) is not standards compliant and it is due for an overhaul. The primary users of this site are internal users. The site will serve as a central hub of information. I plan on using code from the OSU Admissions site design. The Admissions code is accessible and the site structure efficiently separates content from design.
OSU Student Affairs – redesigned
*One of my last projects will probably involve the creation of a wiki for OSU Enrollment Management IT. The wiki will serve as a repository of techie tips and experiential histories. I’ve never created a wiki before so I will need to research the wiki options that exist. OSU CWS currently uses a wiki and I will probably see if their site wiki would work for OSU EM IT.
Final paper for my Disability Issues class:
Enrollment Management – Topic: Online portals and accessibility
What is Enrollment Management (EM)?
Enrollment Management departments actively identify, counsel, recruit, and
enroll qualified students; and offer services that promote student retention
and success. Enrollment Management emerged as a new field in Student Affairs
in the 1980s.
Enrollment Management Organizational Example
At Oregon State University, EM consists of 6 units: Admissions, Student Orientation
and Retention Programs (SOAR), Registrar, Financial Aid and Scholarships,
SMILE, and Precollege Programs.
Strategic Enrollment Management concepts
- Establishing clear goals for the number and types of students needed to
fulfill the institutional mission.
- Promoting academic success by improving student access, transition, persistence,
- Determining, achieving, and maintaining optimum enrollment.
- Enabling the delivery of effective academic programs.
- Generating added net revenue for the institution.
- Enabling effective financial planning.
- Increasing process and organizational efficiency.
- Improving service levels to all stakeholders (e.g., prospective and current
students, other institutional departments, other institutions, coordinating
- Creating a data-rich environment to inform decisions and
evaluate strategies. [We add analysis-rich too as many institutions
are data-rich with the student information systems in place,
yet a parallel investment has not often been made on analyzing
the still “invisible” relationships].
- Creating and continuously strengthening linkages with functions and activities
across the campus.
(From “Strategic Enrollment Management: Core Strategies and Best Practices,” by
Bob Bontrager, 2004, College and University Journal, 79(4), 9 – 15.)
Enrollment Management and Online Portals
As new technologies emerge; Enrollment Management departments strive
to expand online services for their students. Through the use of online portals,
EM departments continue to strategically utilize technology to increase student
persistence and retention. Online portals are also useful in increasing student
satisfaction, institutional efficiency, and online service deliverables (Harr,
What is an online portal?
An online portal is defined as “an abridged and customized
version of the institutional Web presence… a "pocket-sized" version
of the campus Web. Portal technology adds "customization" and "community" to
the campus Web presence. Customization allows each user to define a unique
and personal view of the campus Web. Community tools, such as chat, forums,
survey, and so on, build relationships among campus constituencies” (
UPortal by JA-SIG)
Online Portals and Accessibility
The creators of most online portal applications state that they provide accessible
online solutions. SCT, the creators of the Luminis online portal state that
they are “committed to making the SCT Luminis product family increasingly
accessible for people with disabilities and more user-friendly for everyone.
Accessibility doctrine requires that all people, including those with disabilities,
have equal access to information technology through the implementation of a
universal design standard” (Sungard SCT, 2005). According to Blackboard,
another online portal vendor, “Blackboard is committed to the accessibility
of our e-Education platform. We are working with leaders in the accessibility
field to contemplate industry standards and federal guidelines for accessibility” (Accessibility).
In addition, WebCT, a worldwide leader in e-learning systems states that “WebCT’s
e-learning systems are World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Priority 1 compliant
and adhere to Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act” (WebCT
Frequent accessibility issues with online portals
- Frames – oftentimes, developers use frames as a convenient
means to separate data sets. Frames are usually
a virtual roadblock for users with visual impairments due to
incompatibility with screen reader technology.
- Alt tags – Alt tags are used to describe images. If an image is used
to provide a user with content then the tag needs to correctly identify the
image. If an image is used as a design element then the tag needs to be coded
as alt=””. This will allow screen readers to pass over an image
without wasting a user’s time.
- CSS/XHTML – The use of structured markup is usually
lacking on an online portal. Structured markup will ensure
that when images and formatting are removed, the content
of a site will still be accessible for all users.
- Skip navigation links – If navigational menus are
duplicated on all pages of a website than a developer should
always provide the user with a means to skip the duplicated
menu. This will create a heightened usability factor for your
- New windows – When an online portal opens a new window, a user’s
navigation ability can be severely decreased. The
back button becomes useless and the ability to navigate to
the previous page becomes impossible.
choice of browser options for most users. SCT’s
Note: SCT’s Luminis is currently in use by over 200
colleges and universities. Luminis contains frames, has improperly coded alt
tags, does not utilize CSS/XHTML markup, is missing skip navigation links,
to SCT, “Future testing may include expanding client contact with schools
who are concerned about accessibility and feedback from users who face accessibility
challenges of all kinds” (Sungard SCT, 2005).
ADA and Section 508 Requirements
ADA : The interpretability
of the ADA can be both a benefit and a detriment to users with disabilities.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) requires
a public college to take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with
persons with disabilities "are as effective as communications with others" [28
C.F.R. § 35.160(a)]. OCR has repeatedly held that the terms "communication" in
this context means the transfer of information, including (but not limited
to) the verbal presentation of a lecturer, the printed text of a book, and
the resources of the Internet (California State University, Long Beach – Docket
Number 09-99-2041, 1999). Most colleges and universities attempt to comply
with the ADA but most fail to provide absolute accessibility with online services.
It can be posited that the lack of disability studies curriculum in computer
science, information systems, and education programs has led to a general lack
of support and understanding for online accessibility.
Section 508: Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act
of 1973. It is intended to end discrimination against people who have disabilities
within the context of technological access. Section 508 officially became U.S.
law in 2001 (Zeldman, 2003).
(a) A text equivalent for every non-text element shall be
provided (e.g., via "alt", "longdesc", or in element content).
(b) Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation
shall be synchronized with the presentation.
(c) Web pages shall be designed so that all information conveyed
with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup.
(d) Documents shall be organized so they are readable without
requiring an associated style sheet.
(e) Redundant text links shall be provided for each active
region of a server-side image map.
(f) Client-side image maps shall be provided instead of server-side
image maps except where the regions cannot be defined with an available geometric
(g) Row and column headers shall be identified for data tables.
(h) Markup shall be used to associate data cells and header
cells for data tables that have two or more logical levels of row or column
(i) Frames shall be titled with text that facilitates frame
identification and navigation.
(j) Pages shall be designed to avoid causing the screen to
flicker with a frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz.
(k) A text-only page, with equivalent information or functionality,
shall be provided to make a web site comply with the provisions of this part,
when compliance cannot be accomplished in any other way. The content of the
text- only page shall be updated whenever the primary page changes.
(l) When pages utilize scripting languages to display content,
or to create interface elements, the information provided by the script shall
be identified with functional text that can be read by assistive technology.
(m) When a web page requires that an applet, plug-in or other
application be present on the client system to interpret page content, the
page must provide a link to a plug-in or applet that complies with §1194.21(a)
(n) When electronic forms are designed to be completed on-line,
the form shall allow people using assistive technology to access the information,
field elements, and functionality required for completion and submission of
the form, including all directions and cues.
(o) A method shall be provided that permits users to skip
repetitive navigation links.
(p) When a timed response is required, the user shall be
alerted and given sufficient time to indicate more time is required.
(Web-based intranet and internet information and applications, 2002)
Software for website accessibility assessment
IBM – aDesigner
Accessibility and Vision tests
IBM – Home Page Reader v3.02
User Test(assistive technology)
Dolphin Access – Supernova Pro v5.1
User Test(assistive technology)
(From Oregon State University Technology Access Program)
Why should online portals conform to web standards?
Coding using standards (particularly CSS for positioning, and strict HTML)
makes accessibility an easier goal to achieve , as standards have been created
with accessibility in mind. Being able to address accessibility issues means
being able to serve web content to a larger audience, increasing web site efficiency,
especially for users with disabilities.
A List Apart: Source for web standards information
Assistive Technology Act of 1998
Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center (ITTATC):
National Assessment of State E&IT Accessibility Initiatives
International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet
Making Web Sites Work for People With Disabilities
National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)
Opera: a web browser with several accessibility features
Oregon State University online accessibility documentation
Section 508 Information
Spazowham Design – “we build sites from raw, organic table-free
XHTML and CSS, 100% validated, compliant to W3C standards and Section 508,
and ready to run in any browser on any device.”
Texas Tech University Enrollment Management Plan 2002- 2006 http://www.ttu.edu/enrmgt/emplan/
WebAIM: Accessibility in Mind – Free online accessibility tools
WebAIM: Accessibility in Mind – Section 508 Web Accessibility Checklist
Web-Based Information and Prospective Students with Disabilities:
A Study of Liberal Arts Colleges
Blackboard Inc., (n.d.). Accessibility. Retrieved Apr. 22, 2005 , from Accessibility
FAQ’s Web site: http://www.blackboard.com/products/access/faqs.htm.
Bontrager, Bob . (2004). Strategic Enrollment Management: Core Strategies
and Best Practices. College and University Journal, 79(4), 9 – 15 .
California state university, long beach – docket number 09-99-2041. (1999).
Retrieved Apr. 24, 2005 , from http://www.icdri.org/legal/lbeach.htm.
Harr, G. L. (2002). Connections: a comprehensive student portal. concept
paper and proposal…
Sungard SCT. (2005). SCT luminis product family and accessibility [Brochure].
Malvern , PA
Uportal by ja-sig. (n.d.). Retrieved Apr. 23, 2005 , from http://www.uportal.org/index.html.
WebCT, (n.d.). WebCT accessibility. Retrieved Apr. 21, 2005 , from WebCT
Accessibility> Home Web site: http://www.webct.com/accessibility.
Web-based intranet and internet information and applications. (2002). Retrieved
Apr. 21, 2005 , from Section 508: Section 508 Standards Web site: http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Content&ID=12#Web.
Zeldman, J. (2003). Designing with web standards. Berkeley , CA
: New Riders.