The story of artificial intelligence (AI) and higher education is about more than students using ChatGPT to write their term papers. Recent announcements show that as the technology matures and use cases continue to develop, AI is having impacting operations from the dean’s office to the financial aid office.
“We felt there was a workforce need, and that’s our thought process in developing a program, to meet the workforce needs and be innovative in the way we do it,” said Madeline Pumariega, president of Miami Dade College, which recently announced a $5 million investment into each of two AI centers located on different campuses. “We have to move this fast, to be responsive to the workforce and responsive to the industries’ needs.”
Miami Dade’s investment is notable for its addition to the institution’s curriculum, but it pales in comparison to other colleges and universities. For example, New York State’s University at Albany system’s $200 million “AI Plus” initiative is researching and embedding the technology in courses from philosophy to weather prediction. Indiana University has poured a $60 million donation into a dedicated AI research center and even Chat GPT is embracing legitimate relationships with higher education. It announced last week that it will be what it says is the first collaboration OpenAI and a major university, in this case Arizona State. The collaboration will formalize the use of ChatGPT Enterprise to the university, “empowering” faculty and staff to explore generative AI to enhance teaching and research without compromising privacy and security.
Starting in February, ASU will run an open challenge that invites faculty and staff to submit ideas of best-use scenarios for enhancing student success, creating new avenues for research. The goal, according to ASU, is to enhance learning and create more successful student outcomes.
What could those outcomes look like? A clue could be found in the recent SXSW announcement of “Student Startups” for its high-profile pitch competition on March 9. SXSW Pitch showcases 45 companies within nine categories to a panel of industry experts, media professionals and venture capital investors. The events advisory board selected the most innovative startups from 670 applications received this year. One of the entries, for example is Asclepii from Case Western University in Cleveland. It’s focused on using AI to use stem cells in wound care. A similar company, SkinCheck, is using it to help consumers identify potential skin cancer cases.
All of that is lost, however, if students can’t get the funding together to attend college. And once they’re admitted, they need to connections to help them succeed. AI is playing in both these areas as well. One of the leaders in using the technology for student support and communications is Ivy.ai, which has launched an AI-driven product aimed at helping students, parents and even financial aid administrators navigate the tangle of federal financial aid forms. Temple University leveraged Ivy.ai’s chatbot to reduce call volume by 50% in the Bursar office and 20% in HR, which it says increased student and parent satisfaction rates.
Ivy.AI is also pitching itself as an individually oriented “check-in” tool with college students. A good example can be seen in Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC) in New Jersey used Ivy in what it calls a mid-semester check-in campaign. A quick text was sent to students asking them to reply with an emoji based on how they were feeling. Faculty and staff could see if students were feeling happy, stressed, sad, or excited, among other emoji options. This offered insight into student sentiment, and created opportunities to connect students with resources for mental health, academic support, or campus involvement.
“The pandemic highlighted the irreplaceable role that reliable communication and personal relationships play in fostering a supportive, effective, and successful educational environment,” said Ivy VP Beth Greisbauer. “In fact, the path to effective student communication involves more than the means of conversation — it requires a profound commitment to inclusivity, understanding, and support. Getting to know your students is paramount to ensuring they have a positive, fulfilling college experience.”
“It’s risky not to study it,” said Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. “AI is going to be an important part of everyone’s life … It’s a matter of time before it becomes the mainstream; we’re years from it happening, but there won’t be a higher ed where AI won’t be incorporated.”