Dive Brief: 

  • Colleges may need to lean more on artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics to curb the effects of a declining number of traditional-age students, as well as lower levels of state support, according to a new report from Educause. 
  • The 2020 Horizon Report pinpoints some of the challenges higher education leaders are facing and how emerging technology may be able to help. 
  • AI and data analytics could aid institutions in finding new pockets of prospective students and help them be more successful while in college, the report’s authors write. 

Dive Insight: 

AI and data analytics, among other newer technologies, are already reshaping how colleges interact with students and potential recruits, the report’s authors note. 

Many colleges, for instance, have rolled out automated chatbots to help answer students’ questions and direct them to institutional resources. 

Northwestern University, in Illinois, developed a chatbot within the learning management system that can answer common questions and search for documents related to students’ inquiries. Several colleges have improved their enrollment or graduation rates by adding such technology. 

Other institutions are using these tools to recruit new pools of students to make up for an expected drop-off in the number of high school graduates over the next decade. 

As competition over students heats up, colleges “that skillfully navigate these demographic trends may not see significant enrollment increases,” Kevin Gannon, a professor and director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Iowa’s Grand View University, wrote in an essay included in the Educause report. “[S]imply holding steady is a successful outcome,” he added.

Excelsior College, a private online university based in New York, announced Wednesday that it is partnering with ReUp Education, an ed tech startup that uses a mix of automated messaging and human coaches to help colleges enroll students who dropped out. The company also has contracts with public university systems in Texas, Pennsylvania and New York.

Colleges are also attempting to maintain headcounts by using data analytics to boost retention and other student success measures.

The University of California, Berkeley, developed a platform that uses data on student performance to help advisers determine which students are showing signs of academic trouble. 

Other institutions have similar tools for students. At the University of Iowa, students can view a dashboard that shows them the grade they’re on pace to earn in a given course and suggests areas in which they can improve. 

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