AI & Data Science

How AI Can Boost Higher Ed Student Success Outside the Classroom

Mar 27, 2024

In the first weeks of college, students learn that success isn’t just about grades and getting involved. They look for their niche, whether it’s a club, a health program, or a regular social gathering. But over time, it’s easy for students to lose sight of these crucial support systems. A recent study found that up to 60% of students had no idea how many support services were available on their college campus.

When students don’t get involved on campus, they shut the door on so much more than a single study session or a meeting with an advisor. They lose out on enrichment opportunities that can directly contribute to higher education student success.

This is where artificial intelligence can close the gap. As many colleges are already discovering, AI systems can easily gather information about student needs and experiences. The result is a more holistic view of student success, which accounts for life outside the classroom and helps students connect with the resources they need to persist and thrive.

Using AI Systems to Understand Student Engagement in Higher Education

Most colleges collect information about their students’ involvement in campus life. However, because different departments and programs use varying data collection methods, combining this information and getting a clear image of student involvement across campus is difficult.

AI can fix this problem. AI systems can collect a range of data in one place to paint a complete picture of student life, from study habits to extracurricular involvement to residency hall usage. This data is the key to providing student support in higher education—it shows what aspects of campus life students are actively using and what aspects they might be overlooking entirely.

This data is particularly important because so much of student life happens outside the classroom. One recent poll shows that, given the option, students would direct half their tuition toward aspects of their collegiate experience that fall outside the classroom or the lab. Meeting students where they are is a natural way to boost student engagement in higher education.

Human-led campus resources will always be crucial aspects of student support in higher education. But using new tools to support students throughout their careers is also important. AI tools can be highly useful for faculty and staff recruiting and retaining students. Why not leverage AI to better identify students who may be struggling and offer personalized support to reengage them?

Why Technology Is the Key to Higher Ed Student Success

Many leaders might wonder why they can’t simply rely on their existing student success strategies when implementing AI-driven strategies. The advantage of technology is that it provides higher education leaders with a new set of solutions for student success. Rather than relying on assumptions about what’s working, AI-driven technology provides a broader view of what students actually need to succeed.

Another benefit is that AI systems are highly adaptable and able to address the specific goals of an individual institution. If College A identifies an unexplained drop in retention rates between first- and second-year students, an AI system can focus on those students. And if College B finds that students aren’t taking advantage of an advising program, AI can look for reasons the program isn’t succeeding. For example, AI might analyze engagement data and find that the advising program’s communication channels are ineffective, leading to low student awareness and participation. As a problem-solving tool, AI is informed by the mission-driven goals of an institution and not by a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Here are three additional ways AI can support your institution’s student success strategies:

1. Boost student retention

One of the biggest indicators of student success is retention and persistence, or the number of students who return to college year after year. A 2023 analysis found that the persistence rate for the 2.4 million students who started college in fall 2021 was roughly 76%. That means a quarter of college students have fallen through the cracks. AI can help address this issue at the source, identifying at-risk students who could benefit from supportive campus resources and then establishing advisor priorities. This can also lead to earlier academic interventions overall.

2. Assess student involvement

We know that higher ed student success hinges on involvement in campus programs, extracurriculars, resources, etc. The more they engage with faculty, check in with advisors, and see themselves as part of campus life, the more likely they will succeed. By recognizing students involved and those who aren’t, AI can identify students who might need help finding their niche on campus. Reaching out to struggling students can remind them that they’re part of a bigger, supportive community and that there are resources to help them succeed.

3. Identify struggling programs

Students need accessible campuswide programs and policies to succeed. Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon for these programs to develop gaps over time that make them less effective. When that happens, students can easily lose interest or overlook potential help entirely. AI can step in by analyzing key indicators, such as enrollment rates and grades, to identify which student programs are underperforming or require updates. This analysis helps to enhance student retention and persistence by ensuring programs remain relevant and effectively meet students’ needs.

AI systems will never replace faculty and staff on campus, but they can provide invaluable insight into student life and the student experience. With this knowledge, higher education leaders, advisors, and faculty will be able to create pathways for student success more easily.

This article was originally published by EdTech Review on March 22, 2024.

Dr. Art Munin is an AVP for enrollment management solutions at Liaison and is on the faculty of the USC Race and Equity Center. Previously, he served as interim vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and held leadership positions at Illinois State University, DePaul University, the School of Art Institute, and Loyola University Chicago. 


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Over the last three decades, Liaison has helped over 40,000 programs on more than 1,200 campuses more effectively manage admissions through its Centralized Application Service (CAS™) technology and complementary application processing and support services. The higher education technology leader supports its partner institutions’ total enrollment goals by pairing CAS with its Enrollment Marketing (EM) platform as well as the recently acquired TargetX (CRM) and advanced analytics software Othot.