Drupal vs. WordPress for Higher Education Websites

Christine Germeroth
Christine Germeroth

You’re about to begin a huge overhaul of your higher education website and one of the first steps is choosing a content management system. It’s likely that Drupal and WordPress have come up in your research, and you may be trying to decide between the two.

Drupal and WordPress are often compared to one another because they’re both open source content management systems. Both are capable of creating clean, responsive websites that are easy to manage for content editors. The functionality of both can be extended using third party code. And the code for both is openly available for anyone to use, change, and distribute, meaning there are no licensing fees like those required by closed source options. 

There are a significant number of higher education websites on Drupal; Harvard, Brown, and Oxford University all use the CMS, to name a few. According to Drupal.org, 71% of the top 100 universities use Drupal. And there’s some sound reasoning behind that.

Both WordPress and Drupal have strengths and are well suited for a diverse range of projects. WordPress was primarily built for standalone websites or blogs with minimal variation in content types. Drupal was built for more complex, feature rich websites that require significant interconnectivity between pages or site sections, like those required by higher education. 

Here are some factors to consider when choosing between the two content management systems. 

Complex Architecture

If you’re setting out to redesign a higher ed website, you’re likely looking at a fairly complex endeavor. Your website probably requires more complicated architecture than most; you’ll need various sections that are targeted toward different groups of users, such as prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty, and staff. 

Drupal’s ecosystem was built around cases like these. It can handle thousands of users and different content types. Upgrades in Drupal 8 have also resulted in better caching features that make for improved page load times. 

WordPress works well for general, standalone marketing sites, but it will struggle with aspects like multiple install profiles, content sharing networks, consistency, maintainability, and connectivity with other parts of the site.

Users and Permissions

Your website also most likely has extensive user and permission requirements. Different groups will need to perform different tasks and interact with the site in a variety of ways. You may also have different departmental sites that will need to be managed by different teams while staying consistent with branding guidelines.  

Drupal allows for multi-site functionality that can also be centrally managed. Different users and departments can be given diverse permissions and roles so that you can limit their capabilities to just what they need and nothing more.


No CMS is completely immune to security vulnerabilities. It’s possible that WordPress has had more security issues in the past simply due to the fact that it’s a more widely used CMS. WordPress relies heavily on plugins when used for more complex websites, and these plugins are often susceptible to security issues. 

Drupal is well known as a very secure content management system and is trusted by WhiteHouse.gov and other federal government sites. Drupal has a dedicated security team that receives security issues from the general public and coordinates responses. Issues are resolved as quickly as possible and users are alerted to vulnerabilities through regular announcements. The security team also provides documentation on how to write secure code and how to secure your site. With these practices, you can rest assured that all of your student and faculty data would be protected. 

Ease of Use

For simpler sites, WordPress beats Drupal when it comes to ease of use. Because it was developed for less complex, standalone websites, it’s very easy to get it up and running, even for those who aren’t very tech savvy. Drupal’s complexity means it has a steep learning curve and takes longer to build. 

Drupal is a feature-rich CMS that can build more advanced sites, but it also requires more technical experience. You need a team of experts with ample experience to get your project accomplished, and this is likely to be more expensive than a team of WordPress developers. 

But the extra price that you pay for a team of experts will pay off in the end when you have a website that is capable of doing everything you need it to. Drupal's high barrier to entry with respect to module development also means the quality of modules available is higher, and the choices are fewer but more obvious. 

Which Should You Choose?

When it comes down to it, Drupal is likely the better choice between the two. It’s clear that while WordPress has its strengths, Drupal is a better choice for more advanced sites, like those required by higher education.

Drupal provides a strong base to begin rapidly building a complex system. It’s often the CMS of choice for large websites that require significant interconnectivity between different sections. It also allows for a wide range of user roles and permissions, and security is a priority for the entire community. All of these aspects make it a great CMS choice for higher education websites.

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