To stay in touch with students throughout the year and especially during those crucial summer months, some universities have created their own branded chatbots, like CSUNy at California State University, Northridge, or Pounce at Georgia State University, which claimed to reduce summer melt by a staggering 22 percent from 2015 to 2016.
When an AI chatbot (and not an actual person) is communicating with students, making sure the chatbot has a human-sounding voice is important. But even prompting students with robo-generated reminders can have an impact.
“The key is to utilize a range of ways to connect with the students,” says Ali. “Having a personality is important because it makes the process more accessible and less intimidating for them.”
Intimidation can be one of the things that causes students to melt away from enrolling, she continues, describing the process as “very scary” for some, especially those who are the first in their family to attend a higher education institution. The NYU study she helped lead used a texting program that sent out deadline reminders, provided answers to frequently asked questions and, most important, facilitated “personal interactions” between incoming students and a group of mentors with similar backgrounds.
“Our interventions include firsthand stories from actual first-generation college students who, in their own words, describe their experiences of adjusting to college,” says Ali. “It’s important to have messages that are tailored to the students’ needs, and that’s something that AI-powered chatbots can do for a large number of students, as opposed to human counselors who are more limited in the number of students they can serve effectively.”
LEARN MORE: Universities use AI chatbots to connect with students and drive success.
Can Other Technologies Assist in Reducing Summer Melt in Higher Ed?
Other institutions, meanwhile, have been able to connect to their students without relying fully on AI by using existing technologies like Slack, InScribe and even Facebook, says EDUCAUSE Senior Researcher Jenay Robert.
“These technology tools can make a powerful impact by enabling students to share their experiences and learn about others’ experiences, bolstering their sense of belonging,” she says. “Technology tools can also help students connect remotely and facilitate onsite events and meet-ups.”
Regardless of what technology institutions use, building and reinforcing that sense of connection between students and campus should be at the heart of whatever tactics universities are using.
“It’s important for students to feel they belong at the institution and are part of a community,” says Robert. “It’s important for institutions to ask themselves: Do students feel seen and heard? Do they have ways to meaningfully participate in activities? Do they feel represented in the institution’s faculty, staff, media and curricula?”