Future of Higher Education: Chatbots for Improved Student Retention

Higher education administrators can now look at chatbot technology as a tool they can use when planning strategies and initiatives geared toward student retention.

Chatbots are increasingly becoming a part of higher education. From admissions to career services to mental health support. Now, a new study from Georgia State University reveals that when receiving targeted, personalized text messages from an Artificial Intelligence-powered chatbot college students are more likely to complete tasks to stay enrolled. 

The way a student is integrated not only into the campus community academically but also socially will play a paramount role in how well that student will remain engaged and succeed. 

Receiving timely, personalized support from an empathetic, friendly chatbot right into a student’s smartphone could make a difference when a college student is trying to complete a task or needs assistance moving quickly around campus. 

The study, a partnership between Georgia State University Perimeter College and Mainstay shows a significant increase in the completion of important tasks related to college persistence when the students interacted with a behaviorally intelligent chatbot.

Mainstay is an engagement platform providing behaviorally intelligent chatbots which combine Artificial Intelligence (AI), empathy, and contextual relevance to help people activate engagement through text messaging, Web chat, and social media with chatbots.

During the partnership with Perimeter College, Mainstay conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to message about 11,000 students on campus about available support services. These included supplemental instruction sessions, how to pay outstanding balances, how to apply for financial aid, and reminders on important deadlines. 

The research on the chatbot trial was conducted by Postdoctoral Research Associate Katharine Meyer and Associate Professor of Education Policy Lindsay Page, the Annenberg Institute at Brown University. The findings were presented at the Association for Education Finance and Policy annual conference

The study revealed that after engaging with the chatbot with targeted support including messages promoting specific academic support services, 66 percent more students attended a Comeback Camp for academic support thanks to the encouraging reminders. 

The researchers found that the sooner they reached out to students, the better the outcomes. The results show that 16 percent of students were more likely to file their FAFSA by January 1, 4.6 percent were more likely to register early for the spring 2021 semester, and 14 percent were more likely to register early for the fall 2021 semester.

Personalized, actionable messages played a fundamental role. If the chatbot notified students of an issue that needed attention, it was more likely that they would respond to solve that issue quickly. This prompted a 13 to 18 percent increase in attendance of academic advising sessions. It also showed that if students received messages notifying them to take action on late payments, it was shown a 36 percent reduction in the likelihood of a student being dropped for lack of payment. 

Overall, students reported that they liked how the messages were personalized, the language used by the chatbot, and that the interaction happened as text messages rather than emails. 

The Georgia State University study makes a compelling case on how chatbots can be powerful tools playing a positive role in admissions and student retention at community colleges.