Higher education institutions are increasingly adopting artificial intelligence as a helping hand in major decisions like admissions and counseling, but AI is still serving as an assistant, not a full-time employee.
The promise of AI in higher education is that it can help administrators make smarter decisions through its ability to quickly scan large amounts of data for relevant markers. While seeking to retain more students in light of the coronavirus pandemic and to find new students in a diminishing pool of prospects, higher education institutions are using AI to save time, freeing humans up to do work that requires critical thinking or face-to-face interaction.
SUNY Empire State College, which was founded on an online, distance-learning model, historically received more than 110,000 calls a year from students seeking answers on topics like financial aid or admissions. The university, where the majority of learners are between 25 and 49, first adopted an online chat feature in 2019.
That online chat system was updated to an AI-powered chatbot this year, named “Blue” after the college’s bird mascot. Since last year, officials said call center volume is down about 30 percent, said Mary Austin, director of the university’s student information center, while the number of inquires through online chat has skyrocketed.
Since students seem to be engaging more with the updated chatbot, that frees up staff to make big-picture decisions about what information the university is offering on other platforms. If there are multiple questions about an aspect of financial aid recorded through the chatbot, for example, that can be addressed through updating the website with some more information or a video, Austin said.