A higher ed CMS may cost more than what you see upfront. What other expenses will you run into along the way?



There are many different moving parts to the digital infrastructure of your institution. One important technology that gives your people the ability to manage, create, and interact with digital content is a content management system (CMS). These systems are used for a variety of online needs, including your college’s website, blog, social network, online classes, eCommerce stores, and more.


When you’re considering taking the plunge with a CMS, one of your top priorities will be pricing. WebFX data shows that the average cost of building a website ranges from $12,000 to $150,000, and maintenance can range from $35 to $5,000 per month. These are very wide ranges, so knowing the factors that impact pricing can save your institution in the long run. You have a complex budget to manage carefully, so taking on anything new is a huge step.


Often the cost of a CMS goes way beyond what you pay upfront. Let’s break down the investment involved in a higher ed CMS. 


Open-source vs. proprietary software


Open-source software is usually free to download, but it may take additional time and money to manage, including dealing with SSL certification and third-party hosting. Proprietary software involves a monthly fee, but everything is taken care of for you, including site uptime, hosting, security, and other elements. 


Whether you choose open-source or proprietary software can significantly impact your overall costs, so weigh the pros and cons of each. Figure out if you want bundled, managed services or to go the more involved open-source route.


SSL certification


SSL certificates secure information between a web server and browser. This means that data passed between a website visitor’s browser and your site is protected. Many hosting providers cover SSL for you, but if yours doesn’t, it can cost around $250 annually.




Web hosting can cost you up to $400 per month depending on what kind you’re going for. Shared hosting is more affordable, and you share a server with other websites under this model. Dedicated hosting costs more, but you have your own server.




There will still be initial configuration costs for your CMS with open-source software, including the energy and time your IT team dedicates to configuring everything. These costs may be included in your package with proprietary software.




Your site will need ongoing maintenance, and these costs will vary based on the plugins and features you’re using with your CMS. Some plans don’t include these costs. Pay careful attention to what your CMS says about ongoing maintenance, so you’re not met with a surprising bill later.




You’ve probably seen the hundreds and hundreds of themes included in content platforms, and often there are free templates you can use for your site. However, the more robust and flexible you want your site to be, the more you will want to pay for a top-quality site design. Your initial design may cost up to $200.


All these costs add up fast, especially when the smaller fees associated with things like domain registration come into play. Another important consideration is how you can lower costs by taking the right steps. 


3 ways to minimize higher ed CMS costs and maximize ROI


Luckily, there are ways you can keep costs low when you start working with a CMS. Here are three quick tips to maximize ROI:


1. Scalable options


You want a CMS that can be customized to your current needs and scale as your institution grows. This way, you’re only paying for what you need and want. As you can put more money toward your CMS budget, you can get additional features or services.


2. Small learning curve


Your teams probably don’t have a lot of time to spend learning an intricate technology. Make sure you go with a CMS that will be easy to integrate and use and doesn’t require much specialized training. You may also want to look for a CMS provider that provides onboarding or implementation services to help your users and IT team get acclimated faster so you can start taking advantage of all the benefits.


3. Choosing the right provider


It sounds simple, but many organizations simply choose the wrong CMS and end up paying way too much for what they’re getting. Your first step is understanding all the associated costs, assessing what your CMS includes, thinking about the flexibility you need, and comparing plans. 


Pay attention to what competitors are using, read reviews, ask for referrals, and pay attention to any red flags or warning signs you notice when you’re first meeting with a CMS consulting and implementation team. Bundling services often saves time and helps get more for what you pay for because experts handle everything.


Why work with KWALL?


How you approach your higher education website and CMS web strategy matters. At KWALL, we help you make sense of it all and find the right services for your needs. KWALL is a full-service digital agency that specializes in web design and development for higher education, and we’ve worked with over 100 colleges and universities in 12 years.


To learn more about how we can help you find the right CMS, or to discuss other services like maintenance or site audits, contact the KWALL team today.


Similar Posts