A Day in the Life of Student Success With AI

Feb 14, 2024

The most valuable resource in Student Affairs is the staff who have dedicated their time and talent to supporting student success. They work long hours. They take their work home. Their behind-the-scenes successes are rarely noticed or celebrated. And yet, their influence is felt throughout the student experience. However, for the incredible outcomes they deliver, in a higher education landscape that has grown more complicated with multitudes of technology and data that do not interact with one another, Student Affairs teams are often not equipped with the right tools to identify students in need of support. 

When you walk on campus, through the student center or library, look at students’ faces. Really look at them. Can you tell who is struggling? Who missed an exam? Who is homesick? Of course not. We are greeted with happy faces of students who want to show that everything is fine. They have perfectly crafted social media accounts reflecting happiness and joy. But we know our campuses are not Neverland.

Student success leaders cannot be everywhere and, therefore, need to harness cutting-edge student success technology to identify students in need and determine proactive support. The key word is proactive. Too many student success strategies rely on responding to early alerts. While an early alert is helpful, by that point, a problem already exists. When envisioning a crisis response on a scale from 1 to 10, our protocols are created to engage at 8, 9, or 10. What is needed is care, flexibility, and support when a student is at 5, 6, or 7. Those working in student success need a tool that can identify support needs before the early alert is triggered. That tool is artificial intelligence (AI).

AI has gotten a lot of press recently, and like any technology, it comes in many forms. A broad description is this: AI is the simulation of human intelligence in computers programmed to reason, learn, and perform tasks that, up until now, required human intelligence. AI encompasses a broad range of technologies that can draw together diverse and complicated datasets to create a unified data layer for an institution. AI can take this unified data layer to identify patterns and generate insights at a scale that exceeds human capabilities. The data AI can draw together includes:

  • GPA.
  • Class attendance.
  • Learning management system usage.
  • Declared major of study.
  • Course registration.
  • On- or off-campus housing.
  • Distance from campus.
  • Dining plan usage.
  • Student recreation activity.
  • Use of the library and academic support services.
  • Participation in student organizations.

Often, institutions do not have all this data available and departments across campus are not aligned; that is perfectly fine. Many campuses have been amazed at the results AI extrapolated from minimal data while simultaneously gaining insights into how to collect additional data and improve future outcomes and student success metrics.

How can AI be used in education? A well-crafted AI model will help you find students who are smiling in the student center but in tears in their residence hall, and those students in the murky middle who may not come up on an early alert but are far from thriving. Despite the benefits of artificial intelligence in higher education, AI is not a magic wand. It will guide you to those in need and make recommendations for ways to help, but in the end, that help will be left up to the caring staff on campus.

As an example, many higher education institutions arbitrarily set student success metrics and milestones. One example is the 3.0 GPA. A student with a 3.0 GPA is assumed to be doing well, while one with a 2.9 requires academic intervention. One of the main benefits of AI in higher education is that it can conduct a comprehensive analysis of your data to determine what the actual GPA tipping point is and if there are specific courses in students’ records that should be weighted differently to determine their likelihood to persist. There is nothing magical about a 3.0 GPA. It is an arbitrary line in the sand. AI can tell you not only where your line should be drawn, but also if it should be different by program or academic college.

It seems counterintuitive to employ a computer to foster student success and improve student care, but this is exactly what higher education needs. We need to use artificial intelligence to help a campus effectively leverage its emotional intelligence. This can be interwoven into the work of Student Affairs. Here are a few examples of how AI can be used in education to support student success.

Campus Role AI Support
Dean of Students
  • Provide monthly reports to identify the 10% of students most at risk of not persisting and devise proactive outreach and support.
  • Analyze student care follow-up efforts to identify those with the greatest positive outcomes and those which require further development.
  • Synthesize Dean of Students Office engagement data to identify students least likely to engage and improve services to close the gap.
Student Conduct Officer
  • Proactively identify which students would benefit from workshops like academic integrity before a violation.
  • Tailor the most impactful conduct case sanctions for a student and assess their impact in relation to grades, persistence, and graduation.
  • Synthesize key data points to help identify what combination of factors may be impacting a student’s success.
Student Group and Greek Life Advisor
  • Analyze on a bimonthly basis which organizations would benefit from academic or social intervention.
  • Perform longitudinal appraisals of student success metrics and risk profiles.
  • Generate reports every semester on the success and engagement of advisors and other leaders of student groups and Greek organizations.
Director of Residence Life
  • Generate a biweekly email to each Hall Director identifying the five students on each residence hall floor least likely to persist next semester, allowing the Resident Assistant to provide outreach.
  • Create a longitudinal analysis of student success in each residence hall to determine staffing and training needs.
  • Investigate patterns in meal plan selection and usage to determine patterns influencing student success.
  • Provide the Hall Director with reports during course registration for the following semester to coordinate follow-ups for those least likely to reenroll.
  • Provide information that facilitates collaboration with faculty who teach in co-curricular programs (such as living-learning communities and summer bridge).
Athletic Director – Use student success technology to track students both in and out of season, identifying key inflection points and prescriptions for academic success throughout the year.
– Review data and provide recommendations on the orientation and training needs that differ among athletic teams.

Final Thoughts on AI Trends in Education and Student Success

We know there is some apprehension surrounding the use of AI in education, and rightfully so. Any technology that has the power and reach of AI should be scrutinized. But, as stated by Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

AI is the tool of the present and future that can aid in preventing students from slipping through the cracks. AI can analyze vast amounts of data to identify areas where students may be struggling, enabling early intervention and targeted support to improve outcomes. In other words, an AI tool can help student success professionals find struggling students, even those who maintain a smile.

Art Munin, Ph.D.
Associate Vice President,
Enrollment Management Solutions


Sean Leahy, M.S.
Associate Vice President,
Enrollment Management Solutions

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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.