Drupal for EDU: How Five Universities are Doing More with Drupal (+Pantheon)

If content management systems were toys, Drupal would be Lego. It’s infinitely customizable. If you can dream it, you can build it. The one downside? You have to put it together brick by brick.

Drupal can be an ideal CMS for university websites. In addition to the customizability, it excels at managing complex content ecosystems. Content like, say, a main university page with dozens of department pages, student life pages, all with multiple content types interacting in multiple ways.

Despite how well-suited Drupal is for EDU, getting started with it can seem daunting. Drupal does require technical savvy and time and money for development—all of which are precious resources for a university.

With a little investment and the right partners, however, universities can create amazing online destinations with Drupal. Here are a few inspiring stories of institutions that leveled up their web presence by upgrading their CMS.


The University of Pennsylvania Builds a Standardized, Rock-Solid Ecosystem

Any university website is a complex ecosystem with multiple stakeholders and content contributors. Not only that, it’s usually built piecemeal, with each department choosing their own CMS system and standards.

This was the challenge that compelled the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) to modernize, consolidate, and standardize. Their old system included sites running on Drupal, WordPress, and any number of one-off custom builds.

The ISC team at Penn decided to standardize their operations, moving all their sites to a single platform and doing away with non-standard CMSes. The communications group built a Drupal upstream that embodied the new standards. This made it easy for other departments to spin up their own sites with the same look and feel as the central site, while also allowing for customization through content and configurable widgets.

With the web presence standardized, the university is looking to new possibilities for data management. “We’re becoming aware of how we can use the CMS systems to address needs that go beyond website building, services like automated data communications,” says Rick Ward, Senior Application Developer & Web Content Management Service Manager at Penn.

Read Penn’s full story.

Cornell University Connects Students with Opportunities

Students at Cornell University have hundreds of unique opportunities available to them, from study abroad programs to internships and beyond. Until recently, though, there was no central way to search through opportunities and apply. Students had to go through each department’s list to find one that fit their needs. It was a time-consuming process one student called “the Cornell Treasure Hunt.”

The team at Cornell wanted to create a user-friendly, customizable guide to student opportunities. Along with Message Agency, they built a solution that integrates Drupal and Salesforce for a “Netflix-like,” customized and personal experience: experience.cornell.edu

“Students come to our site to find things and to do things,” says Rebecca Joffrey, IT innovation officer at Cornell. “Drupal is good for the first part, for finding information. When students do something, take an action, we want to leverage Salesforce to personalize the engagement.”

Now students can seamlessly look for opportunities across departments, click through, and apply within the standardized interface. The “Cornell Treasure Hunt” is no more. Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Said one student: “This is the most elegant and useful website I’ve ever seen at Cornell.”

Read Cornell University’s full story.

Arizona State University Builds a Custom Upstream for over 2,000 Sites

How would you manage over 2,000 sites under a single IT department? Keeping all the sites up and running, handling support requests, and dealing with security risks kept the IT team at Arizona State University (ASU) busy.

The team wanted to standardize on Drupal, but ran into difficulties with their less tech-savvy staff. “Drupal was too complex for a non-developer to maintain,” says Daniel Garcia-Mont, Director of Information Technology Services. “People would switch over to another CMS and then their site would get hacked.”

To address the problem, the team built a custom Drupal distribution on Pantheon, called Open ASU. Having a standardized upstream makes it easy to build a responsive, ASU-branded site without being an expert user.  

The new sites are stable and easily-updatable by design, ensuring that each site will always have the latest security patches. “Now, we maintain the distribution,” says Garcia-Mont. “You just make one click through the Pantheon dashboard and you’re up to date.”

Read ASU’s full story.

The University of Texas Builds a Modern Destination for a Century-Old Alumni Association

The University of Texas (UT) Alumni Association, known as the “Texas Exes,” have been around for over 100 years. Their website, texasexes.org, is the new modern hangout for the association’s thousands of members. They use the site to discuss UT news, network, and most importantly for the association, make donations.

The site’s infrastructure was beginning to show its age—not a hundred years, but at least a decade or two—and the Texas Exes team needed to find a new solution. The site needed to support thousands of simultaneous users, and needed hosting elastic enough to handle major traffic spikes.

The team partnered with web design firm Four Kitchens to build a new site that could meet their evolving needs. The team built a Drupal site on Pantheon, using Pantheon’s built-in workflow to standardize the development process.

With a new, more responsive site in place, Texas Exes are moving ahead with big plans to bring even more value to their alumni. “We can focus more on content and less on web administration,” he says. “We are a leader in the space; we like to show off great-looking content, graphics, and visuals. We can do that on Pantheon.”

Read UT’s full story.

The University of Nevada Las Vegas Rocks a Presidential Debate with Scalable Hosting

Imagine the embarrassment if your site went down when the whole world was watching. That’s the situation the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) desperately needed to avoid. The university was chosen to host the final presidential debate in 2016; an event that would certainly bring unprecedented amounts of traffic to their site.

In the UNLV’s case, the site architecture was fine, built on Drupal and capable of handling thousands of simultaneous users. But the platform the site was hosted on wasn’t up to the task. It was running on a local server in a building on campus. Not only could the server not handle an increased traffic load, it was also vulnerable to attacks.

The team at the UNLV evaluated new hosting platforms as the debate deadline loomed, eventually settling on Pantheon because of their specialization in higher education. With Pantheon’s help, the UNLV migrated the site in time for the debate. During the debate, the site stayed responsive even with an exponential increase in traffic.

Read the UNLV’s full story.

Is Your Website Ready to Graduate?

With its high degree of customizability, capacity to scale, and adeptness at handling multiple content types, Drupal is a great choice for EDU websites. As these stories show, universities can adopt Drupal without having hundreds of skilled developers at the ready.

Drupal works for EDU—and Drupal works best on Pantheon. The platform’s development tools, Multidev environment, support, and security features make Pantheon a perfect fit for higher education.

Learn more about Pantheon for EDU.

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Is Drupal Right for Universities?
Check out Pantheon and Mediacurrent's presentation on how technologists can best serve the needs of their higher ed clients with Drupal.

Topics Drupal, Drupal Hosting, Education

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