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When considering the future of higher education, it’s difficult to overstate the impact that artificial intelligence is likely to have. At a time when many students and families are starting to reconsider whether an undergraduate degree is worth the heavy debt burden many must take on in order to afford a college education, institutions are increasingly looking for ways to bring more value and relevance to their offerings.

AI is a key piece of this puzzle. In this article we’re outlining a handful of ways higher education institutions are implementing AI to stay competitive in a changing educational landscape.

Better student recruiting

AI can play a role in higher education before students even step a foot on campus by helping make the recruiting process more efficient.

Over time, with the help of plenty of historical data, AI can learn which types of students are most likely to be accepted and subsequently to enroll at a specific institution. This information can then be deployed in service of proactively identifying and targeting similar types of students for recruitment. Such use of AI could save institutions time and make the best use of available recruitment resources.

Enhanced student retention

Student retention is a problem at many institutions where the struggle to keep students from slipping through the cracks and getting lost in the shuffle of college life is all too common. Many of these students end up dropping out or transferring to a different school.

Part of the problem is that it’s difficult for educators and counselors to identify struggling students before it’s too late. In the future institutions can implement AI that will proactively identify at-risk students and target them for intervention in order to help them resolve issues or feel more satisfied with their experience, a move that would go a long way toward improving retention rates.

Chatbots that reduce resource strain

The work of teaching assistants (TAs) can be thankless, requiring hours of work to be dedicated to answering high volumes of questions from students. Recognizing this problem, a department at the Georgia Institute of Technology piloted a program to use AI to take on some of the burden previously shouldered by TAs. They realized that volumes of questions posed by students to TAs on the class message board were high, but that many of the questions posed were, in fact, repeated. They trained an AI they called “Jill Watson” on historical questions and answers and let her loose on the message board. Jill had a reported 97% success rate answering student questions.

Another area where chatbots have the potential to impact student life is in the realm of mental health. Young adulthood is a time when many people are at risk of developing mental health issues. Add to that the everyday stresses that come with pursuing a college degree.

The availability of mental health resources is essential on any college campus, and yet institutions are struggling to meet demand which means students often have to wait to get essential care. Chatbots have the ability to reduce some of the burden on campus mental health resources by helping students proactively manage their moods, emotions, and stress levels.

Personalized learning

Perhaps one of the most exciting promises for the future of AI in higher education is the potential for personalized learning experiences. We have long known that different students respond differently to a variety of learning techniques -- each of us is unique and pedagogy is at its best when it can acknowledge and address our differences.

This, of course, is easier said than done and most educators don’t have the time to meet each student on his or her own terms. In the future AI will be able to make personalized learning a reality in many scenarios by, for example, identifying struggling students and pinpointing preferred styles of learning. It’s possible that in the future an AI may even be able to read facial expressions during lessons to identify those who are confused or lost in real time.

Final thoughts

AI has tremendous potential to improve the quality of learning for students both on and offline in the near future and beyond. Though the technology still has a ways to advance before seamless integration is possible, and there are important considerations to take into account when it comes to data privacy, we’re optimistic about the role of AI in making higher education more personal and accessible in the years to come.