US University and College Content Management Systems | 2021

image of a higher education web team at work

US university and college Content Management Systems | 2021

20 January 2021. A vendor helped us identify CMS instances we missed. Consequently, the total detected site count increased from 3,332 to 3,359 (+0.8%). All charts and tables have been updated to reflect the new, more accurate data.

Over the past twelve months higher education institutions have been forced to make unprecedented shifts in their use of digital. The shift has mainly been about moving students to online learning. But, it has also been about using websites to communicate more effectively with diverse audiences while telling institutional, departmental and other stories.

The effectiveness of story telling and addressing audiences is enhanced or constrained by the content management systems (CMS) institutions have chosen to publish their digital content and around which they build digital services.

At the end of December 2020, we took a snapshot of the content management systems US universities and colleges use. We assembled a list of 4,000 ‘active’ institutions (their main website responded to our headless browser) using the National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS database.

We scanned each institution’s homepage to identify the CMS being used to publish content. Overall, we were able to detect, with a high degree of confidence, CMSs for 3,359 homepages from a total of 4,000 institutions (83.8%) . You can read more about our approach in the Methodology section at the end.

Here’s what we discovered 

The big picture

Across the 3,359 successfully detected homepages we identified 63 unique content management systems. However, as our main objective was identifing commercially available systems, we grouped the ten in-house developed solutions as a single category, accounting for 0.3% of all installations.

Twelve content management systems account for 90% of the 3,360 or so homepages we successfully detected. A follow-on group of 12 vendors supports another 7% of the installations. The balance of 3% of the sample is addressed by 39 further suppliers, of which 18 have a single installation that we were able to detect.

The market leading group comprises four open source solutions (Concrete5, Drupal, Joomla! and WordPress) and eight proprietary solutions (Adobe Experience Manager, Cascade CMS, Episerver, Kentico, Microsoft SharePoint, OU Campus, Sitecore and Terminalfour.

Overall, across all institution types (public, private for profit and private non-profit), levels (2-year and 4-year) and sizes, two CMSs predominate: WordPress with 40.8% of all installations and Drupal with 19.1%.

Table 1 and Chart 1: Top 12 Content Management Systems US Higher Education Institutions Use

The data we report here only covers main university and college websites and may not be representative of the total population of all websites and their underlying content management systems.

Many (most?) institutions run multiple websites. Ancillary websites may number in the thousands for large institutions or dozens at the lower end. And, while an institution may host its main website on WordPress (for example), it may also run hundreds of subsidiary websites on Drupal (for example), or other platform combinations.

We’ve actually dug deep into higher education digital estates, the technologies they use and their content composition, but for this article we’ll only be addressing the CMSs publishing content on main websites.

CMS use by type of higher education institution

While the high-level analysis may suggest a market dominated by two content management systems, the situation is more nuanced as we examine different segments of US higher education institutions.

The first breakdown in our analysis looks at the top ten CMSs used at public, private for profit and private non-profit universities and colleges. These institutions comprise 40%, 20% and 40% respectively of the overall number of US higher education institutions.

Public institutions are heavy adopters of WordPress and Drupal, but they also purchase proprietary solutions from OmniUpdate (OU Campus) and Hannon Hill (Cascade CMS). Ten suppliers cover 90% of all public higher education institution main websites.

Table 2 and Chart 2 | CMSs US Public Higher Education Institutions Use

While private for-profit institutions also buy proprietary solutions, they tend to favour products more popular in the commercial sector: Adobe Experience Manager and Sitecore. Ten suppliers cover 97% of all private for-profit main websites.

Table 3 and Chart 3 | CMSs US Private for-Profit Higher Education Institutions Use

Finally, the private non-profit institutions round out WordPress and Drupal use with similar solutions to public institutions: Cascade CMS, OU Campus, Terminalfour and a scattering of other open source and proprietary solutions. Ten suppliers cover 88% of all private non-profit higher education institution main websites.

Table 4 and Chart 4 | CMSs US Private non-Profit Higher Education Institutions Use

CMS use by level of higher education institution

US higher education can also be divided into two-year and four-year institutions, with the latter comprising roughly 2/3rds (65.6%) of all institutions by number.

Two-year institutions have largely implemented WordPress, Drupal and OU Campus to meet their main content publishing requirements, with an additional seven suppliers bring coverage up to 92% of all institutions whose CMS we could detect during this exercise. A small contingent (3.3%) continue to use Microsoft SharePoint as their primary content management platform. And, around 1% of institutions have chosen to use website builder platforms such as Wix, Squarespace or Weebly.

Table 5 and Chart 5 | CMSs US 2-Year and 4-Year Higher Education Institutions Use

Four-year institutions also rely on WordPress, Drupal and OU Campus, as well as sector-specific solutions (Cascade CMS and Terminalfour) and mainstream commercial solutions (Adobe Experience Manager and Sitecore).

While ten vendors cover 89% of all 4-year higher education institution main websites, a further 48 different ‘solutions’ address the balance of the market. Some of these are well-proven solutions from elsewhere (TYPO3, a popular choice for European universities or Umbraco, widely deployed in commercial settings), many others are ‘one-offs’ that seem unlikely to have the support and development resources in place to keep these solutions up to date.

CMS use by level and type of higher education institution

Further segmentation of the results data highlights a number of differences about the content management systems institutions select to meet their digital needs.

Three out of every four 2-year public colleges use a combination of WordPress, OU Campus and Drupal for their main website content. With WordPress having nearly double (35.3%) the presence of OU Campus (18.6%).

Table 6 and Chart 6 | CMSs US 2-Year Public Higher Education Institutions Use

In contrast, two out of every three 4-year public colleges use a combination of WordPress, OU Campus and Drupal for their main website content. But, Drupal is the favoured solution, with 29.2% institutional adoption, with WordPress dropping back to third place, at 18.3% adoption.

Table 7 and Chart 7 | CMSs US 4-Year Public Higher Education Institutions Use

Looking at the private for-profit sector – about 20% of all US higher education institutions – we see a distinct divergence in CMS choices. 2-year private for-profit colleges rely heavily on WordPress (65.1%) with a small group deploying Adobe Experience Manager (9.2%).

Table 8 and Chart 8 | CMSs US 2-Year Private for-Profit Higher Education Institutions Use

In the 4-year private for-profit sector, Adobe Experience Manager, Drupal and, to a lesser extent, Sitecore eat into WordPress's market share, reducing it to 45.8% in this segment.

Table 9 and Chart 9 | CMSs US 4-Year Private for-Profit Higher Education Institutions Use

There are relatively few 2-year non-profit US higher education institutions (85 of 4,000). We estimate WordPress has a 75% market share for content management systems in this group, with Drupal being the principal alternative.

Table 10 and Chart 10 | CMSs US 2-Year Private non-Profit Higher Education Institutions Use

In contrast to the 2-year non-profit sector, there are close to 1,500 4-year non-profit higher education institutions making this group a sizeable market opportunity for CMS vendors. We detected 47 unique CMSs among the 1,270 sites for which we had a high confidence we had correctly identified the content management system. As the data reveals, while WordPress and Drupal have an estimated 2/3rds share of the market, the three main higher education vertical market CMS vendors have also made inroads with a combined 14.1% of the market.

Table 11 and Chart 11 | CMSs US 4-Year Private non-Profit Higher Education Institutions Use

CMS use by type, level and size of higher education institution

We’ve also analysed content management system use by type, level and size of institution. In the tables below, we’ve limited the number of systems we show to the top five in each category to avoid unwieldy tables.

After examining the IPEDS enrollment data we divided institutions into seven categories:

  • Very Large – institutions with 20,000 or more students
  • Large – institutions with between 10,000 and 20,000 students
  • Medium – institutions with between 5,000 and 10,000 students
  • Small – institutions with between 2,000 and 5,000 students
  • Very small – institutions with 1,000 to 2,000 students
  • Extra small – institutions with 500 to 1,000 students
  • Tiny – institutions with fewer than 500 students

In the dual-axis chart we've plotted the percentage of the overall US student population for each size category on the left-hand axis and the proportion of the total number of institutions for each size category on the right-hand axis. In other words, Very Large schools represent 37.3% of all students attending college, but only 5.6% of all institutions.

Chart 12 | Breakdown of US Universities and Colleges by Student Population and Number of Institutions

In Table 12 the Overall column matches the data from Table 1, but now we can see that Drupal, OU Campus and Cascade CMS are strong preferences for larger institutions with WordPress gaining share as the size of institution falls. The first two size categories (Very Large and Large) represent institutions with about 60% of all US higher education student enrollments.

Almost regardless of institutional size the majority of the available content management market is shared by five main suppliers, which likely reflects the fact that these solutions deliver the required functionality and individuals with the relevant support and development expertise are readily available.

Top 5 CMS Suppliers by Institution Size Overall Very Large
20,000+
Large
10,000 to 20,000
Medium
5,000 to 10,000
Small
2,000 to 5,000
Very small
1,000 to 2,000
Extra Small
500 to 1,000
Tiny
500 or fewer
WordPress 40.8% 12.1% 13.2% 22.4% 32.7% 46.1% 56.3% 64.4%
Drupal 19.1% 29.0% 21.7% 22.0% 22.7% 22.0% 16.8% 10.4%
OU Campus 9.5% 21.7% 22.0% 17.5% 12.0% 6.9% 2.6% 0.4%
Cascade CMS 6.9% 14.0% 16.8% 15.2% 8.1% 4.3% 0.8% 0.4%
Adobe Experience Manager 3.7% 4.8% 2.0% 1.1% 1.9% 2.2% 6.1% 6.6%
81.6% 75.6% 78.2% 77.3% 81.6% 82.6% 82.1%

Total number of institutions: 4,000. Total number of detected CMS sites: 3,359

Table 12 | Top Five CMSs in US Higher Education Institutions by Institutional Student Population

In the following six tables we segment the level and type of institution data we examined above by size of institution. First we look at 2-year and 4-year public institutions. Then, we examine 2-year and 4-year private for-profit schools and finally we show the data for 2-year and 4-year private non-profit colleges.

Applying the student population breakdown to 2-year public institutions reveals that Drupal and OU Campus are the preferred content management systems at larger institutions, but their role diminishes at smaller institutions. Again, the data reveals significant market concentration as, at every institution size, five suppliers combine to have 70% or more share of the market.

Top 5 CMS Suppliers
2-year Public Institutions by Size
Overall Very Large
20,000+
Large
10,000 to 20,000
Medium
5,000 to 10,000
Small
2,000 to 5,000
Very small
1,000 to 2,000
Extra Small
500 to 1,000
Tiny
500 or fewer
WordPress 35.3% 8.1% 14.2% 28.8% 40.0% 53.5% 65.6% 64.0%
OU Campus 18.6% 37.8% 23.90% 20.3% 18.6% 11.1% 6.3% 0.0%
Drupal 17.2% 21.6% 17.7% 16.4% 19.1% 11.1% 18.8% 20.0%
Microsoft SharePoint 4.8% 8.1% 9.7% 6.8% 3.2% 1.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Kentico CMS 2.3% 0.0% 6.2% 2.8% 1.4% 1.0% 0.0% 0.0%
75.7% 71.7% 75.1% 82.3% 77.8% 90.6% 84.0%

Total number of institutions: 886. Total number of detected CMS sites: 703.

Table 13 | Top Five CMSs in US 2-Year Public Higher Education Institutions by Institutional Student Population

Content management system choices change markedly, when we look at 4-year public institutions by size of institution. Drupal is the overall preferred CMS as well as at almost every size of institution. WordPress drops to third place and the balance of the market is taken up by the three main higher education vertical market CMS vendors: OmniUpdate (OU Campus), Hannon Hill (Cascade CMS) and Terminalfour (Terminalfour). This market segment appears to be the ‘sweet spot’ for proprietary content management system vendors.

Top 5 CMS Suppliers
4-Year Public Institutions by Size
Overall Very Large
20,000+
Large
10,000 to 20,000
Medium
5,000 to 10,000
Small
2,000 to 5,000
Very small
1,000 to 2,000
Extra Small
500 to 1,000
Tiny
500 or fewer
Drupal 29.2% 31.2% 23.9% 22.8% 28.5% 43.1% 44.8% 57.1%
OU Campus 19.0% 22.5% 23.9% 22.8% 11.1% 19.6% 6.9% 0.0%
WordPress 18.3% 10.9% 11.6% 17.7% 27.1% 19.6% 34.5% 35.7%
Cascade CMS 13.5% 14.5% 19.6% 17.7% 10.4% 2.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Terminalfour 3.6% 3.6% 5.1% 3.8% 2.8% 3.9% 0.0% 0.0%
82.6% 84.0% 84.8% 79.9% 88.2% 86.2% 92.9%

Total number of institutions: 736. Total number of detected CMS sites: 672.

Table 14 | Top Five CMSs in US 4-Year Public Higher Education Institutions by Institutional Student Population

The next segment we examined was 2-year private for-profits, which comprises about 400, or so, institutions. There are no very large or large institutions and, as seen above, smaller institutions favour WordPress, which dominates this segment with an estimated 65% market share.

Top 5 CMS Suppliers
2-Year Private for-Profit Institutions by Size
Overall Very Large
20,000+
Large
10,000 to 20,000
Medium
5,000 to 10,000
Small
2,000 to 5,000
Very small
1,000 to 2,000
Extra Small
500 to 1,000
Tiny
500 or fewer
WordPress 65.1% 0.0% 0.0% 100.0% 66.7% 66.7% 61.4% 65.9%
Adobe Experience Manager 9.2% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 12.9% 9.0%
Concrete5 8.6% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 33.3% 0.0% 11.4% 8.1%
Drupal 7.3% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 16.7% 5.7% 7.2%
Kentico CMS 4.8% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 11.1% 8.6% 3.1%
0.0% 0.0% 100.0% 100.0% 94.4% 100.0% 93.3%

Total number of institutions: 405. Total number of detected CMS sites: 315.

Table 15 | Top Five CMSs in US 2-Year Private for-Profit Higher Education Institutions by Institutional Student Population

The mix of content management system suppliers further shifts when looking at 4-year private for-profits, which has a similar number of institutions as the 2-year private for-profits segment. However, very large and large 4-year private for-profit institutions rely on Drupal and Adobe Experience Manager for digital content publishing on their main websites, with WordPress coming into the picture for institutions with fewer than 2,000 students.

Top 5 CMS Suppliers
4-Year Private for-Profit by Institution Size
Overall Very Large
20,000+
Large
10,000 to 20,000
Medium
5,000 to 10,000
Small
2,000 to 5,000
Very small
1,000 to 2,000
Extra Small
500 to 1,000
Tiny
500 or fewer
WordPress 45.8% 10.0% 14.3% 33.3% 25.9% 40.5% 36.1% 56.3%
Adobe Experience Manager 20.7% 20.0% 28.6% 44.4% 25.9% 27.0% 23.0% 16.7%
Drupal 13.7% 30.0% 28.6% 11.1% 11.1% 16.2% 19.7% 10.4%
Sitecore 9.6% 10.0% 0.0% 11.1% 7.4% 10.8% 14.8% 8.4%
Wix 1.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 1.6% 2.1%
0.0% 0.0% 100.0% 70.4% 94.6% 95.1% 93.8%

Total number of institutions: 389. Total number of detected CMS sites: 343.

Table 16 | Top Five CMSs in US 4-Year Private for-Profit Higher Education Institutions by Institutional Student Population

The last two segments we examine comprise the smallest and largest market groups: 2-year non-profits (85 institutions) and 4-year non-profits (1,496 institutions).

As might be anticipated, as the 2-year non-profit group comprises a small number of institutions with fewer than 2,000 students (our Very Small to Tiny categories), the majority of these schools use WordPress for digital content publishing, along with a small presence of Drupal and OU Campus.

Top 5 CMS Suppliers
2-Year Private non-Profit Institutions by Size
Overall Very Large
20,000+
Large
10,000 to 20,000
Medium
5,000 to 10,000
Small
2,000 to 5,000
Very small
1,000 to 2,000
Extra Small
500 to 1,000
Tiny
500 or fewer
WordPress 75.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 50.0% 70.0% 79.1%
Drupal 8.9% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.0% 9.3%
OU Campus 1.8% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 10.0% 0.0%
Adobe Experience Manager 1.8% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 2.3%
Microsoft SharePoint 1.8% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 2.3%
0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 50.0% 90.0% 93.0%

Total number of institutions: 85. Total number of detected CMS sites: 56.

Table 17 | Top Five CMSs in US 2-Year Private non-Profit Higher Education Institutions by Institutional Student Population

For 4-year private non-profit universities and colleges with more than 5,000 students Drupal and WordPress are the preferred content management platforms, with Drupal’s role shrinking as institution size gets smaller.  This segment is also most likely to adopt one of Cascade CMS, OU Campus and Terminalfour as their digital publishing and marketing platform for their main website.

Top 5 CMS Suppliers
4-Year Private non-Profit Institutions by Size
Overall Very Large
20,000+
Large
10,000 to 20,000
Medium
5,000 to 10,000
Small
2,000 to 5,000
Very small
1,000 to 2,000
Extra Small
500 to 1,000
Tiny
500 or fewer
WordPress 46.9% 27.3% 15.2% 16.7% 30.2% 48.2% 62.0% 67.1%
Drupal 19.6% 27.3% 23.9% 32.3% 23.9% 23.% 16.2% 10.0%
Cascade CMS 6.7% 13.6% 17.4% 17.7% 11.8% 5.3% 1.7% 0.9%
OU Campus 4.6% 0.0% 13.0% 5.2% 8.85% 4.6% 2.8% 0.9%
Terminalfour 2.8% 0.0% 6.5% 8.3% 4.9% 1.8% 0.0% 1.2%
68.2% 76.1% 80.2% 79.7% 83.0% 82.7% 80.0%

Total number of institutions: 1,496. Total number of detected CMS sites: 1,270.

Table 18| Top Five CMSs in US 4-Year Private non-Profit Higher Education Institutions by Institutional Student Population

Methodology

For this research project we compiled a list of relevant institutions from the US higher education institution data available in the NCES IPEDS database.

We cleaned the data extract, to eliminate institutions that had closed since the IPEDS database had last been updated and to update URLs that were incorrect or had changes. This process resulted in 4,000 institutions with unique IPEDS ID numbers. 

Using an optional setting of our digital estate management software we scanned each of the URLs associated with the 4,000 unique IPEDS ID numbers. Our detection rules can identify just over 200 content management systems with a high degree of confidence based on either unique ‘fingerprints’ these systems leave on a webpage or by inference from a number of fingerprints. 

At scan completion, along with sample checking and manual verification of low confidence detection items we identified CMSs for 3,359 unique IPEDS ID numbers. From previous work, we had identified ten institutions that had developed in-house CMS solutions and these form part of the 3,359 identified systems. However, as our focus was on commercial CMS solutions, we chose to group the in-house solutions as a single ‘in-house’ category rather than as 10 individual CMSs.

If you have further questions about our approach, or would like to perform a similar exercise across your campus, please get in touch.

If you've read this far, take a look at similar data for European universities: Which Content Management Systems do EU Universities Use?

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