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Digital Application Development

WWT Streamlines University’s Degree Search Planning with Students

In collaboration with University of Arizona stakeholders and key end-users, WWT facilitated, designed and developed a human-centered degree search interface by capturing the existing experience, defining the ideal experience and creating a solution.

In This Case Study

Established in 1885, the University of Arizona is a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools. Arizona is a student-centric university and home to nationally ranked graduate programs, including the Eller College of Management’s management information systems program (U.S. News & World Reports’ 2020 No. 1 among public universities). Arizona is also a leading Research 1 institution with $687 million in annual research expenditures.

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Challenge

The university’s goal was to provide a new degree search and transfer planning portal for prospective students. The platform would enable prospective students to save majors they were interested in, record transfer credits, discover ideal degree paths and quickly connect them to Arizona’s enrollment advisors and application for admission. The long-term vision was for current students also to leverage the solution for degree program changes. 

Arizona approached World Wide Technology (WWT) to accelerate the university’s progress in creating a solution that would streamline its existing degree search functionality and add new critical course mapping capability for prospective transfer students. The university’s previous solution required a comprehensive overhaul because prospective students, academic advisors, and community college partners found the solution frustrating to navigate with out-of-date or missing information. This confusion complicated the university’s ability to easily attract and create a dialogue with prospective students early in their degree search process and enrollment journey.

"When the University of Arizona needed to replace our legacy degree search and extend its capabilities with transfer planning, I knew it was going to be a complex effort involving multiple stakeholder groups with varying priorities, integration to our underlying PeopleSoft Campus Solutions product, and placement in the university’s primary web real estate. Having worked with WWT on other efforts, I knew they would be the right collaborative partner. The resulting product and associated outcome metrics speak for themselves."

Darcy Van Patten 

Chief Technology Officer, The University of Arizona

 

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Vision 

Engage: Engaging through a compelling digital experience for exploring interesting degree programs compatible with student interests and career goals.

Empower: Empowering transfer students and advisors to quickly understand how community college achievements can contribute towards completing a degree.

Connect: Fostering human connections between prospective students, Arizona staff and community college advisors to provide the best planning experience possible and decision to apply for admission.

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Solution approach

WWT engaged internal WWT State, Local and Education (SLED) digital strategy expertise and Application Services’ User Experience team to facilitate a scoping session with key university stakeholders. This session clarified strategic priorities and established a roadmap that guided the design and build the solution. Together, the University of Arizona, its community college partners and WWT defined the existing experience, created a vision for the ideal experience and developed design concepts for a solution.

To define the current user experience, WWT created personas for prospective transfer students and community college academic advisors. The personas were developed through empathy mapping sessions with focus groups of students and advisors from local community college and university transfer students. In these sessions, participants described what they thought, felt, heard, saw and said throughout the experience of finding a major. Participants also expressed painful steps in the process, including affordability of higher education, availability of financial aid and scholarships, and transferring completed coursework. Success in their academic experience meant increased career stability, an opportunity for future financial improvement, and stronger positioning to support family needs.

Research-first approach 

This research-first, or human-centered design approach, increased the solution’s accuracy, reduced dollars spent on re-work, accelerated the design process, and served as a decision-making guide throughout the project. 

UX design & validation 

Leveraging prior research, the UX design came to fruition organically targeting user pain points, functionality needs, and essential elements of user delight. End-user validation of the designs was performed at critical stages to ensure solution accuracy. 

Agile development

With Arizona’s Product Owner’s leadership and collaboration, WWT’s Application Services software development team followed an iterative Agile development process to build the new portal. The collective development team regularly provided demonstrations to stakeholders for feedback, critical decisions, and strategic guidance.

Validation process

WWT established and followed a rigorous solution validation process that included: 

  1. Defining the current user experience
    1. Empathy mapping sessions
    2. Persona development
    3. Journey mapping
  2. Defining the ideal user experience
    1. Design Studio Part I: Exploring and finding a degree with post-transfer students
    2. Design Studio Part II: Understanding what courses transfer to a preferred degree
  3. Synthesize learnings into site content
    1. Use Case I: Choose a degree
    2. Use Case II: Exploring degrees
    3. Overall hierarchy of site content
    4. Navigating site content
  4. Wireframe validation
    1. Create the first draft of wireframes
    2. Gather initial feedback from students and advisors
    3. Refine wireframes
    4. Repeat validation process
  5. Solution development
    1. With ideal experience clearly defined, we determined what was possible within budget and time constraints.

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Technical considerations

Core functions of WWT’s solution included searching, filtering, and comparing majors, creating individual major detail pages for different education plans, introducing a transfer credit tool and updating user account creation and sign in functionalities. The development team focused on core functionality and inclusive design (tested usability, responsive and adaptive experiences for mobile, tablet and desktop views and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) AA per Arizona’s accessibility standards).

The university’s website, arizona.edu, was built in a Drupal Content Management System and did not support the more complex solution requirements. To achieve seamless integration, WWT built Drupal modules for the header and footer so the degree search application could be “sandwiched” in between. Technologies used in WWT’s solution included:

Core project 

  • Angular for front-end to keep consistent with other development in progress
  • .NET Core / C# for back-end
  • MariaDB for the database to store user data, including favorites and transfer courses

Supplemental 

  • Docker containerize different services
  • Gitlab CI to run builds and tests and to facilitate deployments
  • AWS for deployment
  • Terraform to automate spinning up and down of AWS

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Results

Visiting Degree Search, users were 4x more likely to start their application (FY21 data). Since its launch, the Degree Search landing page has remained the top page on Arizona.edu (283K unique pageviews) following the homepage for both in-state and out-of-state traffic.

WWT seamlessly integrated the advanced requirements of the new degree search into Arizona.edu. The university’s new platform, which WWT built upon in-depth field research to provide a comprehensive solution, can be explored at Arizona.edu/degree-search. This project highlights a true user-centered solution, crafted by incredible WWT facilitated teamwork with the client stakeholders, academic advisors and students.

"We know the #1 factor as prospective students consider colleges is the availability of their desired academic program. Degree Search enables those students and their families to quickly determine whether the University of Arizona offers their desired program so they can continue their college journey. The tool’s intuitiveness makes it easy to explore majors and quickly realize how much Arizona has to offer."

Kasey Urquídez, EdD Vice President, Enrollment Management 

Dean, Undergraduate Admissions