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Heartland Community College


Heartland Community College is a fully accredited community college in Central Illinois with campuses in Normal, Lincoln, and Pontiac. The college was founded in 1991 and maintains an enrollment of 5,600 credit students and about twice as many non-credit students.


Prior to implementing Cascade CMS, Heartland maintained its website without the help of a content management system for many years. Instead, both technical and non-technical users used Microsoft FrontPage to update their pages. This caused several problems:

  • Too much training required - Every department was was required to take a website maintenance training course that showed non-technical users how to use HTML. Since this was a technical subject, users constantly had to be retrained, causing frustration and a barrier in productivity.
  • Inconsistency of branding - To ensure brand consistency—especially with its headers and footers—Java files needed to be imported into every page. Additionally, while the 100 top level pages had a similar look and feel, lower level pages did not have the same consistency. In fact, 13 distinct designs were discovered.
  • Lack of content reuse - Sharing content across pages and sites was only possible through the involvement of a programmer.
  • Delayed publishing of content - Users were not able to instantly publish content. Instead, they had to save their changes and every 12 hours, the staging server copied the pages to the production site.

Overall, creating, updating, and publishing content involved a lot of technical overhead and as a result, the website was not as up to date as it should have been.

When the number of technical resources at Heartland was reduced to one web developer, the College knew that making content management sustainable required the implementation of an enterprise CMS. And a key requirement was ease of user for end users.

The College decided to go through a systematic redesign in conjunction with rolling out the new CMS, as well as implement a new calendaring system that would allow it to both separate news and events and serve as a room scheduler.


Bob Gibson, Heartland’s Webmaster and only web developer resource, spearheaded the requirements gathering process. First, he compiled a list of the six most prominent CMSs that focused on higher education. Next, he meticulously examined the features that each system provided including workflow management, user administration, and the ability to publish content on an ad-hoc basis. After viewing demos of all six products, Heartland rated them by the level at which they supported each use case. Finally, the assessment was shared with stakeholders, who rated every feature based on value and importance.
After the results were tallied up, Cascade CMS emerged as the winner and Heartland began with the redesign project before integrating its new templates into they system.


Heartland Community College rolled out a brand-new, beautiful website designed by mStoner. The site is completely responsive and looks great on every device and platform. The site is easy to maintain by content contributors and site administrators. With the implementation of Cascade CMS, Heartland achieved the following results:

  • No more technical training for contributors - Within minutes, non-technical users learn how to use Cascade CMS to create new content and update existing pages. Now, instead of technical lessons, training focuses on how to write effective content for the web. According to Gibson, “The training sticks because it’s not technical. [Users] come to the training once and then they go back to their jobs”. One of the main goals of implementing a CMS is to empower users to be able to only focus on the actual content, which is exactly what Heartland accomplished.
  • Create a page within minutes - The go-to-market time of new content has been reduced to just a few minutes, as developers no longer have to be involved in the process. Content contributors can build a new page, add content, and publish to the live site within seconds.
  • Template flexibility for end users - End users are not tied to a monolithic WYSIWYG editor to determine the layout of their pages. Modern and sustainable website management requires managing your content in smaller, more reusable chunks. Heartland allows users to create rows and columns of content and specify which elements to include. For instance, users can select a WYSIWYG editor for one row and an accordion for the next one, as seen on the Financial Aid page. The Meet your Advisor page shows another example of how users can add components to each row and each column on their page, while still maintaining a fully responsive output.
  • Easy cross-site sharing of content - One of the biggest changes that Heartland experienced before Cascade CMS was the inability to easily share content across multiple pages and multiple sites. Now, content can be reused automatically or via user choices. For example, the news section on the on the homepage is populated by articles created and housed in the newsroom, while the events are being pulled from the event calendar managed in 25Live, the third-party system chosen by Heartland for both events and enterprise room scheduling. Managing the information architecture has become a breeze. Cascade CMS can update the navigation automatically based on file structure, and it also allows authorized users to make changes manually. Heartland places great importance on shareable assets. In fact, they even maintain a repository for what they call “SPIFS”, shareable pieces of information—and allow users to pull those into their pages.
  • Create a new site in five minutes - Arising from a need to create a graduation site, Heartland web contributors scheduled a meeting with Webmaster, Bob Gibson. The meeting was strictly intended for initial requirements gathering. However, Bob started building out the site during the discussion, and by the end of the meeting, it was ready to go for content creation. Prior to Cascade CMS, this process would have taken weeks to complete. As Bob pointed out, “It takes less than five minutes to create a new site without any real content. I can fly to create a professional site that looks great, and then someone else can edit it and add content.”

Switching to Cascade CMS has drastically increased content freshness and overhead. Contributors are now trained to write effective web content instead of being bogged down with technical training. Heartland’s sole web developer no longer has to be involved in the creation of pages. As he stated, “the website is no longer my number one workload hog. I can focus on other strategic projects. And now we can move the website forward rather than just maintain it.”

Future Plans

While nothing is finalized yet, the following are some of the features under discussion for our next phase of personalizationHeartland Community College is embracing the concept of mapping visitor journeys and personalizing the user experience. For example, content will be customized based on the programs that the user selects on the Program page. The Checklist page guides prospective students systematically through the steps to take from initial exploration to enrollment. Heartland intends to provide an even more personalized experience moving forward and is collecting more information about each site visitor. Additionally, Heartland is integrating its student portal, so that different clubs will be displayed based on the types of classes the student is taking, for example. It is clear that Heartland Community College is a pioneer in higher education with regard to delivering targeted content to its visitors.