Higher Education is going through a major shift as institutions attempt to align to changing environments and student demands. Today’s student is looking for options outside of, or coupled with, a traditional four-year degree. The desire for life-long education and demand for lower-cost options has many traditional schools turning to online offerings. It has been a shift met with resistance by administrations, but minds are starting to change. Education, which was once believed to only be effective in a classroom, is now available in an online medium. Not to mention 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all over the world.
“This year 73% of schools made a decision to offer online programs based on growth potential for overall enrollment”
– 2018 Online Education Trends Report
Online education can open many doors for students who otherwise would never be able to attend a certain school. For example, Stanford this year rolled out 150 courses online. Students who never dreamt of attending Stanford, due to cost or distance, can now do so. The accessibility to high quality education is changing before our eyes.
This wave was never more apparent than when Purdue University purchased for-profit Kaplan University in 2017 and turned it into Purdue Global with the aim of serving post-secondary education. A traditional, nonprofit land-grant university is shifting to meet the demands of present-day students. Being mentioned in the same press release as a for-profit education company was unfathomable, until it wasn’t.
We aren’t talking about only adult students here either. The trends point to traditional aged students (18-24 years old) turning toward online education as well.
”Students aged 18-24 saw the greatest year-over-year increase in online education enrollment at 115%”
– 2018 Online Education Trends Report
However, no good deed comes without unintended consequences. Learning from a remote location can be a challenge. There is no building to walk into. There is no teaching assistant (TA) to sit down with. There is no residence hall advisor to check in on you. And rarely any other students to remind you of deadlines and schedules.
Being online means you need online self-service mechanisms for support and help. A student’s success depends on it.
Many institutions have attempted to use their traditional telephone-based student support services. However, phone support is slow, it produces inconsistent answers, it isn’t available 24×7, and is mostly an experience students dread.
Also, help desks are not cheap to operate. Each call can generate a cost of at least $5 and oftentimes much more.
Time has always been a student’s scarcest commodity. Whether it is balancing a full course load, or juggling work and family, students simply can’t waste time on hold waiting for someone to answer a basic question like: when am I allowed to register?
If perceptions weren’t bad enough about phone support, imagine how your worldwide student body feels about that support only speaking English. English second language learners require a special approach.
A 2018 study showed how many international students struggle in their relationships, with their finances, feelings of isolation and belonging, all of which affect their educational experience. For example, regarding isolation, only 35% of respondents reported feeling a part of the university.
– The International Journal of Higher Education Research
Digital Assistant to the Rescue!
Digital Assistants are a type of enterprise chatbot that not only can answer questions and provide support, but they can assist you in completing tasks such as changing your email address on file with the registrar, or even signing you up for a class. They know who you are and can personalize their service to you. Today’s digital assistant is not your parent’s MovieFone.
Your digital assistant can be that self-service help, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether it is questions for the registrar, financial aid office or student services, the digital assistant provides consistent answers at speed.
Average response time from the digital assistant is usually sub-second. With student demand for instant answers and their dislike for waiting on hold, chatbots are not only an essential tool, but oftentimes the preferred communication method of students.
Supporting students in their native language can bring a comfort to someone reaching out for help. Digital assistants can provide that multi-lingual help.
Our chatbot can speak over 100 languages automatically. That is a level of service that would otherwise be very expensive, and almost impossible, to provide with traditional support centers.
No conversation about student systems can be had without considering the impact to student success. Digital assistants open up all sorts of ways to help the student along their academic journey. While we have touched upon support functions already, sometimes students needs a more proactive nudge.
The digital assistant knows, for example, when a student has an assignment coming up or an advising appointment so it can make sure the student is reminded. If the student has a hold placed on their account which can interfere with graduation, the digital assistant can pop up and help them resolve the issue.
You may be wondering… what about complicated problems with nuanced solutions or those that really need the personal touch? Chatbots don’t replace all personal interactions. The chatbot can sense when the student is stuck and transfer them to a live person or have someone such as their advisor follow up with a phone call or personal visit.
An even better consequence of deploying a digital assistant is that it frees up time from key roles like academic advisors who no longer need to answer common, mundane questions. They can refocus on activities that help students be successful. Plus, it also negates the need to increase help desk staff to support an increasingly online student body.
And, of course, digital assistants don’t go to sleep, and never call in sick.
Because digital assistants are extremely cheap to run, they are the key to keeping operational costs down, while student enrollment rises.
AI is driving, and supporting, a new era of technological disruption
When you see the big names such as Purdue University, Stanford, MIT and Harvard getting into online education, you know the winds of change are blowing. And with those winds, we can’t lose sight of supporting our students in these new models and ensuring they are successful. Digital assistants can address many of the real problems presented by changing models. Consider that in the next decade, the incoming class of students will have never known life without Alexa or Siri or Google Assistant. This group will expect AI to be in place to support their needs.
This wave of change and the promise of cost savings, expanded enrollment, and better student success are compelling enough that CIO’s in higher education surveyed by Gartner designated artificial intelligence as the top game changer for 2019.
Getting started with a digital assistant for your institution is as easy as our 12-week pilot program which has no long-term commitments. Contact us to learn more and see a demo for yourself.