Engage or Inform?
Given the two choices, to engage or to inform, what do you think is the primary purpose of your .edu website? I've seldom had a client willingly make that choice. "We want it to do both. To engage the user while informing them about features and benefits, programs and degrees, dorm halls and meal plans, and so on," goes the usual response.
The more I think about that question, the more I have to move away from parity out of conviction. If you asked fans of Apple the ultimate purposes of their products, you'd hear a lot of great responses. I've read enough to know the one that really drives Apple in all they do is the desire to make people's lives better. If that's not about engagement, I don't know what is.
Prospective students and their parents are the primary audiences for most .edu sites. If as Jonathan Baldwin, Program Director for Design Studies, University of Dundee posts, that 90% of the decision making process is rational—location, programs, cost—you'd better make sure your site is highly informative. But if the final 10%, and usually the clincher is emotive—fit, feel, intuition, intangibles—engaging a prospect at that level is paramount.
We've interviewed thousands of students through the years. When we ask them the deciding factor(s) in their college choice, 1 of 10 will say "they had my major or it was in the type of location I was looking for." Not to say those factors weren't present, but 9 of 10 will answer with "it just seemed like the right fit for me, it felt like family, or God led me here."
Information doesn't move the will to action, engagement does. Is your website engaging?