Every modern campus needs a powerful content management system (CMS).

Content Management Systems for Higher Ed: An Easy Q&A

There is a lot to keep in mind when choosing the right content management system (CMS) for your higher ed institution. To help you make an informed decision, we’ve identified the most important questions to ask before you buy, including:

  • How much will a higher ed CMS cost?
  • Should I choose an open source CMS for my higher ed institution?
  • Can I migrate data from an old web CMS to a new one?
  • What is the most essential feature of a higher ed CMS?
  • Who needs to be involved in choosing a college’s CMS?
  • SaaS or self-hosted: Which is best for my higher ed CMS?

A content management system is the backbone of your higher ed website and, as such, should be one of the most important decisions you make. As with any major purchase, look beyond price and appearance to choose a flexible, extensible CMS that meets your college or university’s website needs, both now and in the future.

How much does a higher ed CMS cost?

Cost is always at the top of the list. The main mistake schools make is only considering the upfront costs of content management systems, rather than thinking about all the costs associated with a system. To determine the real price, think about the following:

System Costs

Don’t go by upfront fees alone — make sure you ask for initial costs, licensing fees and fees for the lifetime of the CMS. Although a quality provider will state these clearly up front, some commercial CMS vendors will not discuss hidden fees until after you’ve signed the contract. Likewise, an open source CMS is free up front, but essential add-ons and fees can quickly add up to as much — or more — than a commercial system. For example, commercial plug-ins or modules for WordPress or Drupal require licensing fees. You’ll need to pad your budget as best you can for these unexpected costs when estimating the overall long-term price of an open source CMS.

Configuration Costs

The price of a higher ed content management system should include initial costs for configuration. For an open source product, you’ll need to include the costs for your IT team to get your new CMS up and running, or fees for hiring new talent or contractors who can help.

Maintenance Costs

Some content management systems for higher ed don’t include maintenance. That’s fine, as long as your team includes IT experts who will keep your CMS up to date, maintain plugins and modules, add and manage users, address security issues and build enhancements. If you would rather rely on experts to do this, choose a CMS provider that includes maintenance and can step in with expertise when needed.

Hosting Costs

Whether you maintain your own hardware or contract cloud-based hosting, you’ll pay ongoing costs to keep your CMS running and your site online. With a higher ed solution such as Omni CMS, software as a service (SaaS) deployment offers a cost-effective solution for hosting — we ensure optimal uptime and push updates automatically.

Design and Content Costs

Keep in mind that CMS software and support are only part of the overall website budget. If you’re redesigning your site, the most significant expenses will be discovery, architecture, visual design and HTML/CSS development. Once it is up and running, you’ll want to make ongoing investments in content development. Your choice of CMS can have some bearing on these costs. For example, if you choose a system that is easy for users to learn and manage, you’ll spend less on training and day-to-day tasks.

Do-Over Costs

Configuring, customizing and maintaining an open source CMS can be complicated, and mistakes aren’t easy — or cheap — to fix. Whether you find yourself changing systems or sticking with the same platform, correcting major errors can mean virtually starting from scratch. You want to get it right the first time.

Before making an investment, check out Omni CMS to see how our comprehensive services for implementation, maintenance and support designed especially for the higher education community can meet your needs — and your budget.

Should I choose an open source CMS for my higher ed institution?

Open source has advantages:

  1. It is widely adopted.
  2. It has thousands of modules and plug-ins to add functionality.
  3. It can be updated on your own schedule.
  4. It has large developer communities.
  5. It has third-party support services.

However, an open source CMS isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and those benefits are often downfalls of the software in disguise. There are times when choosing commercial software is not only a better fit for your institution, but can be more efficient and affordable.

The disadvantages of open source include the following:

  1. It’s vulnerable to malicious viruses and cyberattacks.
  2. It doesn’t include free support.
  3. It’s not as user-friendly as some commercial CMS products.
  4. It doesn’t automatically update, so someone on your team will need to stay ahead of updates and maintenance.
  5. It’s not tailored to meet the specific needs of higher education.
  6. It doesn’t provide customization, so you’ll need someone to customize the CMS, design and templates to meet your college or university's needs.

Can I migrate data from an old web CMS to a new one?

Yes. In fact, quality content management systems will include a content migration tool and have an experienced team to help you. For example, here at Modern Campus, our migration team has encountered just about every possible migration scenario, so they can guide you through each step of the migration process.

There are several proactive steps you can take to simplify the migration process:

  • Read the documentation. A quality CMS will provide extensive documentation and training resources.
  • Understand that some processes require manual checks. Each web page has a unique URL structure, but when moving content, relationships between pages can break code, styles, assets and links to other pages, for no apparent reason.
  • Don’t scrimp on time. A comprehensive CMS migration can take weeks of content clean up and up-front technical work. However, if you invest the time needed to do it right, you will have far fewer glitches during and after migration.
  • Avoid shortcuts. Resist the urge to save time by migrating the existing site as is into a new CMS. This will only bring your existing problems into the new system.
  • Conduct a content inventory on your existing system. Besides clearing away outdated pages, an inventory provides you with a detailed list to ensure that all relevant content is migrated. It also provides valuable information for architecture purposes because you can compile, group and organize similar content to make it easier to follow.
  • Review SEO. Your sitemap is altered when content is revised, deleted or moved, which can lead to a decrease in traffic to your site. When you migrate to a new CMS, use automated redirects to help with this process. 

What is the most essential feature for a CMS in higher ed?

Customer support. It’s hard to manage a CMS on your own, so when you choose a solution, make sure that you also give special consideration to the provider’s customer service. Here at Modern Campus, we pride ourselves on our service and offer support in several ways:

  • We offer onsite and remote training opportunities that are customized for your institution’s end users, administrators, trainers or developers.
  • Our learning management system includes self-paced classes, videos and quizzes. You can create your own materials or use Omni CMS materials to educate your users.
  • You can access our support site and knowledge base 24/7 to learn about features and functionality and get answers quickly. The Feedback Forum allows customers to submit, comment on and vote on CMS feature requests.
  • Our Professional Services team fills the gaps in manpower for your college or university. Our experts can create custom templates and provide navigation schemas, coding and scripting to help make your website unique.
  • You can engage with your peers and Modern Campus staff in our online community featuring discussion forums, videos, classified listings and more.

Don’t overlook any important step in choosing a CMS. Follow the CMS evaluation checklist in our comprehensive white paper, “College and University Website Redesign: The Ultimate Guide.


College and University Website Redesign: The Ultimate Guide

A powerful CMS is the backbone of your website. If a website redesign is in your future, download our ultimate guide.

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Who needs to be involved in choosing a CMS for higher ed?

Putting together a selection committee is your first step in choosing a CMS. Basically, select one person from every group that will use the CMS: content contributors, IT, administrators, marketers, trainers, end users and compliance/accessibility experts. It also helps to include someone from finance who can be an ally in securing funding for the project.

It may be that you have broad authority to make the selection on your own, but at least solicit feedback from stakeholders to ensure buy-in once you have the CMS implemented.

SaaS or self-hosted: Which is best for my higher ed CMS?

Comparing self-hosted and SaaS software? Software as a service has become the preferred method for software delivery across industries for a number of reasons:

  • Your connection is secure.
  • Your data is safely stored in the cloud.
  • Your data can be accessed at any time.
  • Your system’s updates and maintenance are handled by the CMS provider’s tech team.

SaaS also offers lower up-front costs because you don’t have to worry about purchasing, installing or hosting software. And there are no costs for maintaining, securing and replacing hardware.

Choose a quality CMS solution. 

Any time you try something new, there is a learning curve. The same is true for choosing higher ed content management systems. However, if you choose a quality solution such as Omni CMS, you’ll have a powerful tool to wield as you create a dynamic, personalized website with a team of experts by your side to guide you through implementation and beyond.

Thousands of higher ed professionals use Omni CMS as the backbone of their website. Get a demo to see this powerful higher ed content management system in action.


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Last updated: February 5, 2021


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