Geocities – UCLA’s Program Leading to Undergraduate Success
While doing a deep dive into the Geocities College Park Gallery, I found a site inconspicuously titled PLUS(at UCLA). As a Johns Hopkins student, I won’t shy away from the fact that other highly achieving colleges are interesting, so I decided to see what UCLA was up to during the early stages of website creation. It turned out the site was more interesting than I initially believed. PLUS UCLA stands for UCLA’s Program Leading to Undergraduate Success. UCLA’s PLUS program was one of the earliest attempts at mainstreaming student academic support online, and it was done through a Geocities webpage. The website was created by the programmer Jonathan Won who is credited with the website creation and upkeep in the PLUS Staff page on the website.
Won was likely paid by UCLA to create the website in an effort to capitalize on students’ increasing internet use during the late 90s and early 2000s. Because PLUS is a federally funded TRIO Student Support Services program, the goal of the web page creation would have been solely to reach more students and give them more opportunities for academic support or financial aid. It also means that Won’s creation would have been one of the more advanced webpages for this stage of the internet as it was the beneficiary of backing from a massive university. In reference to the circuit of culture’s consumption and identity, the website as it states, “specializes in providing a range of valuable services to first-generation college, low-income UCLA freshmen enabling them to excel academically and to ultimately graduate.” This consumer market is once again reiterated on a different page of the website this time stating that “PLUS focuses on providing personalized services to students whose parents do not have a college degree, and students whose families meet specific income requirements.” In essence, PLUS is a program UCLA devised to better advise their own low-income students on opportunities for scholarships, financial aid, or general help. This likely started in an attempt to make college more manageable for underprivileged students as without the proper support college can seem overwhelming and scare off a number of qualified candidates before they’ve even applied. This is supported by the widespread support PLUS provides which they listed on their About Plus page.
In order to understand the site more fully it’s important to look at its complete coverage. Different areas the webpage covers in addition to the Home page and About Us page include academic links such as Honors and Undergraduate programs, PLUS applications, career & job information links such as Job Direct, news and events, financial aid links such as AAP scholarships, map links such as Campus Map, and informative workshops. Each page includes a general title and then a number of condensed links making it easy for targeted students to find whatever resources they need. For reference, a screenshot of the career & job information does a much better of explaining this than I can.
The interactive links and condensed information are something students around the world would appreciate. Another aspect of the site in relation to consumption is a lack of effort to attract clicks from your random internet doom scrollers. If the aim of the site was to attract viewers it would likely look completely different and focus on colors and eye-catching images rather than an abundance of information and pages. This makes sense for what the site is trying to do. It was never made with the intention of reaching mass audiences as it is at its basis a school resource. The creators would have assumed that students would put the effort in to find the site making their job somewhat easier as they just needed to provide the information the students would be looking for. As seen in the image above the links combined with a short summary encompassing what they had to offer was good enough. Thus, the identity is defined by the students seeking opportunities to better themselves and therefore becomes more than just its site it becomes a necessary resource, something all great websites aim to achieve. Although I haven’t done enough research to truly confirm or deny whether or not sites like this exist for most colleges, I can speak for Johns Hopkins University and it seems in today’s world information has become exponentially more difficult to access in an attempt to improve websites. Although today’s college websites might offer more because they can be so large, and at times complicated it can take hours to find everything the PLUS website was able to provide in under 10 different pages all easily accessible by a single menu bar. I’m not saying early websites such as the PLUS webpage are the end all be all but I definitely believe it’s something to think about going forward. Simpler is sometimes just better.