Case Study – Hillsdale College

A catalog and student handbook solution for a liberal arts college.

We recently launched a joint course catalog and student handbook for Hillsdale College, a small liberal arts institution in Southern Michigan. They had historically published a print version of their course catalog, which was then distributed across campus for the upcoming semester. This outdated platform had become a nuisance over the years, with both students and staff ready for a more modern approach. We spoke with Monica VanDerWeide, Hillsdale’s Director of Marketing Content, about what the process looked like for their staff and what benefits they’ve enjoyed since launching the new catalog site.

The Challenges

Prior to switching to Clean Catalog, Hillsdale was relying heavily on printed copies of their catalog, while also publishing a PDF version on their website as a secondary resource. In today’s digital age of learning, these static documents created hurdles for students and staff alike. Not only were they difficult to navigate and impossible to search, but they were inaccessible to students with visual, auditory, learning, or other disabilities. The user-unfriendliness led students to avoid using the catalog, making the time staff spent on catalog management largely wasted.

The Hillsdale staff also struggled with making updates to their catalog, which had to be routed through a single staff member. This created a bottleneck in their catalog management workflows. Since they only published a new catalog version once or twice a year, much of the catalog content was inaccurate or outdated well before the next publication date. This also resulted in more typos and inconsistencies being published, since edits could not easily be made once errors were noticed.

The Clean Catalog Process

Many small colleges and tech schools are hesitant to migrate their course catalogs based on the assumption that it will be a massive undertaking for their already short-handed staff. For this reason, the Clean Catalog team takes care of the content migration and new catalog build-out for our clients. The Hillsdale staff emailed us the PDF version of their catalog, along with past archived versions, and we took over from there. Over several weeks, we built the framework of their new catalog site, collaborating with the Hillsdale team and gathering their feedback on the structure, interface, design, and organization. VanDerWeide reflects that since “it was important to have a PDF that mirrored previous printed catalogs as closely as possible, especially for this first transitional year, Clean Catalog worked closely with us to achieve that, especially in the faculty directory, the music courses, and overall formatting.”

Once the layout of the catalog site was solidified, we turned our attention to the design of the site. The Hillsdale staff shared their brand guidelines, pantone colors, logo files, and photography for us to implement into the design. We added a stunning photo of their campus to the homepage of the catalog site, which adds a “wow” factor when users first visit the new site. The final product is a fully custom catalog and handbook site that isn’t just visually appealing, but has the functionality and accessibility to make it a long-term success. VanDerWeide says “I can't say enough good things about Clean Catalog's customer service! Our reps were a joy to work with and were always courteous, responsive, and willing to go above and beyond to meet our requests. I always heard back quickly from them.”

Our Solutions

We built Hillsdale’s new site to dually host a student handbook and their full undergraduate course catalog. By publishing these two documents in tandem on the site, their staff can make edits to both documents in one place and students can search more efficiently. The homepage of the new Hillsdale catalog allows users to quickly navigate between the handbook and the course catalog. A search bar at the top of the site enables students to search for content universally, across both documents. Once they click into a specific document, they can then search and filter through that content specifically. We also built a custom footer on their site, which provides quick links to Hillsdale’s overarching website, social media accounts, online store, and other student resources.

Hillsdale staff and students can continue to export the catalog as a print-ready PDF, should they need a hard copy as they’ve used in the past. This gives users the choice of how they’d like to interact and navigate course content, whether it be physically or digitally. The site has a fully responsive design, so it can be accessed on any device with any screen size. While Hillsdale’s previous catalog format was greatly lacking in accessibility, their new site now actually surpasses the accessibility standards set by WCAG 2.2. Not only will this greatly benefit their students, but it will also boost their site’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and strengthen their online presence.

The easy-to-use admin dashboard of our software was also a major upgrade for the Hillsdale staff. They can now make edits quickly and universally, build custom workflows to delegate catalog management, and publish updated versions as-needed. VanDerWeide is very pleased with the final result, saying “the interface is easy to use and very intuitive. It's great to be able to make updates immediately rather than having to wait for the next print edition!”

Looking Forward

Since launching, the new Hillsdale course catalog has already seen improved student engagement, enhanced accessibility, and greater consistency and accuracy. Furthermore, Hillsdale is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The next time their institution is up for an accreditation renewal, their catalog site will make the process run much more smoothly. They will be able to quickly locate any missing content, fix errors efficiently, submit links to required content, archive past catalog versions, and export the catalog as a print-version for campus visits. Hillsdale will also enjoy ongoing support from the Clean Catalog team, along with access to all future feature releases, security updates, and accessibility upgrades.

VanDerWeide summed up her experience by saying “I wholeheartedly recommend Clean Catalog. I was sold after watching our first demo, and every step along the way confirmed that it was the right choice of vendor…It's reassuring to know that I can count on Clean Catalog for prompt service anytime I have questions or need help with the software.”

Monica VanDerWeide

Director of Marketing Content

I can't say enough good things about Clean Catalog's customer service! Our reps were a joy to work with and were always courteous, responsive, and willing to go above and beyond to meet our requests. I always heard back quickly from them.