Smarter Tech to Smooth the Path to College

After college acceptance letters arrive, the complexity and sheer number of tasks required to actually enroll — complete FAFSA, submit a final transcript, pay a housing deposit, obtain immunizations, among many other things — thwart the plans of many high school grads to matriculate. Between 10 and 40 percent of intended students fall into this “summer melt” pattern, and aspiring first-generation students, who are more likely to lack the prior knowledge and support to complete these steps, are particularly susceptible. Guidance counselors and admissions officers can provide valuable assistance, but it can be nearly impossible for them to be with every student, every step of the way.

Research has shown that sending students text messages with tips and reminders throughout the admissions process is a successful intervention. Now, a new studyshows how that approach can go one step further, by using an artificial intelligence system — a virtual admissions counselor — to send personalized texts that reflect an awareness of which tasks students have finished and which they still need to complete.

The study found that with this data-informed, personalized guidance, students are more likely to enroll in college, while real counselors have more time to help students with complex circumstances.

THE RESEARCH

The study, conducted by education policy analyst Lindsay C. Page and educational psychologist Hunter Gehlbach, examined the impact of an artificial intelligence (AI) system on enrollment at Georgia State University (GSU) in the fall of 2016.

In April 2016, GSU began to use Pounce, a program developed by AdmitHub, to send targeted text messages to admitted students about what they needed to do prior to matriculation. For example, the system would ask if the student was bringing a car to campus. If the student responded “no,” he wouldn’t receive any additional info about parking and registration; if “yes,” he would.

Pounce tailored its messages based on the data GSU had on each student. A student who had already submitted her FAFSA would not receive FAFSA-related outreach, for instance, but a student who had not yet submitted it would receive reminders and suggestions.

When the program was unable to answer student questions, it forwarded them via email to university admissions counselors. The counselors’ responses were then incorporated into AdmitHub’s system, with the goal of fewer staff interventions over time.

Messages were sent to 3,745 admitted students. 3,744 others, in a control group, received regular communication from GSU admissions. Approximately one-third were aspiring first-generation students.