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How Technology Can Create Meaningful Results in Higher Education

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Embracing the evolution of technology in higher education opens up significant opportunities to enhance student success and address persistent challenges. While it's undeniable that advancements in technology and generative AI are transforming the higher education landscape, these changes are not just challenges; they are also powerful tools for improving access to education and fighting structural inequality. 

In our recent webinar, "Technology-Enhanced Solutions in Higher Ed," we joined forces with Mainstay and experts from Georgia State University, Indiana University, and the Brookings Institute. Together, we explored how technology can be strategically employed to overcome current obstacles in higher education, ranging from student engagement to equity gaps. This article highlights key insights from the webinar and showcases innovative ways technology is being used to reshape the future of higher education..

The State of Higher Education

College and university enrollment peaked around 2010, when approximately 21 million students were studying at an undergraduate or graduate level in the United States. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic caused undergraduate enrollment to drop by 3.6%. Many institutions made a rapid (and sometimes messy) switch to virtual-first education. 

While undergrad enrollment was roughly even between 2022 and 2023, many institutions have yet to fully come to grips with the changing enrollment landscape following the worst of the pandemic upheaval. Current enrollment still lags behind pre-COVID numbers (from 2019) by just over one million students.

The temporary switch to virtual education is still affecting how higher education is conducted today. Students are accustomed to the mechanics of classes playing out partially (or entirely) online, but they also grapple with the value of virtual education, especially now that in-person classes are available again. Generally speaking, students are concerned about the rising cost of college and the student debt burden.

Another recent change was the June Supreme Court decision which overturned Affirmative Action, ending race-conscious admissions. This reversal presents challenges for institutions recognizing the value a diverse student population can bring to the educational experience for all. The full effects of this change in law will not be understood for some time, but many experts are concerned that it will exacerbate existing racial inequalities in higher education.

Higher education administrators are also concerned about poor resource utilization among students. These folks have devoted a great deal of time to ensuring that students have resources to cope with academic, social, and personal struggles while they are enrolled. But research shows that only 29% of undergraduates actually use the support services available to them, such as career counseling or peer tutoring.

How Technology Can Address These Problems

However, despite the changing educational landscape, technology can be used to ease concerns and address the problems institutions face by:

  • Nudging students toward support services. Institutions may use technology as simple as email, or as sophisticated as a customized generative AI chatbot, to guide students to take advantage of support services such as career or guidance counseling, mental health resources, peer tutoring, and more.
  • Providing answers on demand. Dr. Allison Calhoun-Brown, Senior VP for Student Success and Chief Enrollment Officer at Georgia State University, shared how GSU’s AI chatbot answered 200,000 questions within the first year of implementation. With answers on demand, students can take action and advocate for themselves more effectively. At GSU, even though the chatbot was available to all students, those with less access to institutional knowledge benefited most from the tool.
  • Broadening access to tutoring support. Knack provides virtual, on-demand peer tutoring powered by each institution’s own high achieving students. Knack provides tutoring training and infrastructure; each institution sets their own guidelines and pay scale for student tutors. This allows students to find a tutor for virtually any course they may be struggling with.
  • Meeting students where they are. Mainstay uses AI-powered text messages to engage students and provide personalized support for each individual student. Their messaging focuses on key, high-impact actions like paying bills and scheduling tutoring sessions. With Knack, campuses can affordably staff and mobilize a larger base of peer tutors on campus via a tech-enabled independent contractor model, enabling all types of institutions to build a 24/7 tutor network flexible enough to meet the needs and preferences of every student on campus.

Engaging students during summer break. At Georgia State, the chatbot engaged students over the summer to keep them up-to-date about critical action items like class registration. As a result, they have seen a 30% drop in summer melt and a 50% reduction in the number of students who begin the semester with an outstanding balance.

Do you want to learn more about how technology can address your problems?Download the full webinar now: