Build a Modern Student-Centric Catalog

May 2, 2022
  • Corporate partners
  • Technology
  • Student Success
Student at desk researching.

Sponsored by Coursedog

As student needs continue to evolve, a PDF catalog often doesn’t make the cut anymore. Not only is a PDF catalog limited in functionality, but the majority of students are accustomed to using more advanced technology in their everyday life. A technologically outdated PDF may cause students to pause and wonder what their experience will be at that institution. 

However, at many institutions, the catalog is still a manually updated PDF document linked out on a public-facing website. While this approach provides information to some individuals, the catalog ultimately functions as more of an archive of that term or year. Other institutions use a point solution for their catalog that moves beyond the downloadable PDF document but still serves as a web-based PDF. 

These solutions lack more dynamic search functionality, require significant manual work on the part of administrators, and result in a catalog that can easily become out of date without constant vigilance from staff. The goal of a modern catalog should be to create an immersive and explorative experience for current and prospective students. Newer solutions that provide this type of experience allow institutions to create a modern, student-centric catalog that serves as a tool to address student success metrics such as enrollment and completion rates. 

As more institutions look to create a modern, student-serving catalog, they should keep in mind the following: 

Ensure the catalog serves the changing needs of students as they progress through their program 

Students’ needs will change throughout their time interacting with your institution. Before enrollment, earlier stage students look to your catalog for information about where they fit in on-campus or what program makes sense for them. Enrolled students are focused on quickly finding information about program requirements so they can be sure they are on the right track. As they near the end of their program, students turn to the catalog to ensure they’ve met graduation requirements. 

Treat your catalog like it is the first impression prospective students have of your institution 

Just as students research products they buy and entertainment they consume, students are becoming savvy consumers in higher education. Many students research an institution’s program offerings before speaking to someone or setting a foot on campus.

The most recent Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed found “major/program of interest offered” was a top consideration in the decision to enroll for 65% of students. A modern catalog should allow for SEO optimization and other online marketing functionalities that consistently rank your institution high in online searches. 

Institutions can also leverage the catalog to market the institution and each individual program. To help students envision their future, include information such as lifetime earnings, potential job titles, and skills learned on program pages. As more students compare the returns of education vs. immediately entering the job market, helping them understand the value of education over the long-term will be key in keeping enrollment rates up. 

Leverage your catalog as a tool to drive increased completion rates 

To successfully complete their programs, students need to know the requirements for completion. However, according to a recent survey of over 200 university leaders, 48% said curriculum changes are not always accurately reflected on program maps, completion audits, the website, or other student-facing sources. Additionally, 62% said students are unaware of changes made to the curriculum that may impact them 

Enable students to easily access information that empowers them to successfully access the correct courses and complete their degree. To achieve this, the catalog must provide accurate, up-to-date, and easy-to-find information. 

To attract prospective students and retain current students, a more immersive and exploratory experience will be essential to help students navigate the labyrinth of the catalog.


AACRAO's bi-weekly professional development e-newsletter is open to members and non-members alike.