Western Carolina to serve as test site for UNC on-line student portal

CULLOWHEE — The University of North Carolina system will soon unveil its next generation of on-line services for prospective students, an innovative World Wide Web-based program that will serve as an electronic “one-stop shopping” entry portal for students interested in attending any of the 16 UNC campuses.

A prototype of the new interactive system, called the Prospective Student Portal, is being established this fall at Western Carolina University, identified in March by UNC system officials as the development and test site for the project.

Western Carolina was selected to develop the prototype in part because of the university’s reputation for successfully implementing innovations in technology, including the UNC system’s first computer admissions requirement in fall 1998, said Robyn Render, UNC associate vice president for information resources. Western also has been targeted by university system leaders for significant growth over the next decade, and use of the Prospective Student Portal will provide an additional, valuable tool to help the university meet its enrollment target, Render said.

The Prospective Student Portal is designed to provide as easy and seamless a method as possible for students to learn about and apply to any UNC campus, from Cullowhee in the west to Elizabeth City in the east, she said. WCU’s prototype site, expected to be up and running in January, will be in use for about three months, giving technicians time to evaluate and modify it before it is used as a template for sites at other UNC campuses.

By working together on a shared portal system, member institutions are able to pool their resources, which should result in a product to better serve the interests of all campuses — and, more importantly, meet the needs of North Carolina’s high school juniors and seniors looking for answers about higher education, Render said. “Together, the campuses of the UNC system can do more collectively than they could individually. Working in an alliance will bring everyone up to a higher plateau,” she said.

When the portal project is completed, the navigational architecture for each campus’ site — that is, the basic buttons and links that allow a user to navigate within a site — will remain consistent for all 16 institutions. The informational content, however, will vary significantly from campus to campus, with strong brand identity for each institution. Western’s prototype, for example, features the university’s colors of purple and gold, and utilizes text and images from its printed student recruitment materials, which center on the theme “Power Your Mind.”

“This is not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach,” said Frank Prochaska, Western associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and one of the managers of WCU’s Prospective Student Portal project. “Each campus’ site will have the same functionality, but will also have a different look or flavor while still providing all the basic information and services our research shows that prospective students want.”

Among the on-line tasks students will be able to accomplish are searches for a variety of information, from academic majors to entrance requirements, and from campus clubs to sports schedules. Once a student establishes a Prospect Student Portal account with a university, he or she will be able to apply for admission, seek financial aid and scholarships, send transcripts, sign up for orientation, fill out forms for housing applications and vehicle registration, receive class schedules and housing assignments, and meet academic advisers, all on-line.

The system includes an innovative admissions checklist that provides up-to-the-minute information on the status of a student’s application for admission and other supporting materials each time the student visits the site. There also is a timeline designed to inform students when certain applications or forms are due, a feature to help guide the student through the often-complicated admissions process.

The Prospective Student Portal, when fully in place, will work in conjunction with several other technology initiatives, including Campus Pipeline, a portal providing content and services for currently enrolled students, and NC Mentor, a state-funded site that aims to increase the number of high school graduates who seek enrollment in any N.C. higher education institution, whether public or private.

North Carolina will be the first state in the nation to have such a seamless, electronic communication process for students to apply to and enroll in institutions of higher education, WCU’s Prochaska said.