Jul 05 2023

AI Has Arrived in Higher Education. Now What?

Last year’s release of ChatGPT sent colleges and universities scrambling. As the dust starts to settle, how can institutions harness AI for good?

The possibilities for artificial intelligence may seem endless — and a little intimidating. But there are already ways that higher education institutions can take advantage of the AI revolution.

The groundbreaking release of ChatGPT late last year brought generative AI to the forefront and led to countless opinions, surveys and news stories about how disruptive the tool could be for colleges and universities around the world.

The disruption that is to come from the latest (but surely not the last) iteration of AI and machine learning does not need to be a bad thing, however. Thankfully, most higher education institutions have been quick to embrace the positives. Universities that want to stay ahead of the curve already are considering the ways that AI can improve efficiencies and workflows, boost student success, and become a critical part of research, retention, admissions, instruction and more. Meanwhile, colleges that aren’t embracing AI risk being left behind.

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How Can Higher Ed Institutions Use AI?

All it takes to compile a list of ways that colleges and universities can work with AI is a little imagination. But the tantalizing potential of AI can be distracting, and it’s important to acknowledge that we are right now in the early days of understanding and implementing a major technological innovation. So, while it’s not time to get carried away about the possibilities, it’s worthwhile to consider potential uses and keep every door open.

To get started, colleges and universities should at least be having conversations about AI at all levels of leadership. Discussing AI is no longer optional, whether it’s about:

  • Competing for available research dollars to study it
  • How faculty will respond to students using AI tools like ChatGPT
  • Enhancing the student experience
  • Improving business workflows
  • Evolving the way instruction and assessments are delivered
  • Anything else you can dream up

Of course, not every institution is equipped to jump into the deepest AI waters right away. Larger universities with greater resources can devote more resources to this work, but that doesn’t mean that smaller colleges should wait for them to lead the conversation.

The Digital Velocity team at CDW has long helped universities with the art of the possible, making sure our partners can keep up in rapidly evolving spaces such as AI.

Where Should Universities Start Incorporating AI?

Plenty of colleges and universities are already using some form of AI or machine learning. The emerging world of AI tutoring has grown out of institutional research on the technologies. Likewise, IT departments with automated service ticket platforms or security automation tools are using AI, and AI-powered chatbots help universities to better connect with their students.

Chatbots are an area where the impact of generative AI may be felt most strongly, and the soonest. ChatGPT is an advanced natural language model. Its ability to communicate in a more human way and with a larger base of knowledge could make chatbots even more effective in:

  • Directing students to the resources they need
  • Answering registration and financial aid questions
  • Maintaining contact to reduce dropouts and summer melt

The impact could be enormous.

READ MORE: How to optimize device management in higher education.

If a newly powerful chatbot were able to reduce summer melt by just 3 percent, that could single-handedly turn around declining enrollment trends and provide a major boost to a college’s bottom line. CDW’s Digital Velocity team has helped institutions around the country supercharge their chatbots using the latest AI technology, and it has even built those chatbots from the ground up.

Universities should be preparing their students for careers in which they’ll be using AI with increased frequency. AI is going to impact higher education in all sorts of ways, and the same is true in the broader workforce, where companies are considering or already implementing AI tools. It’s unlikely that AI is going to replace us all in our jobs; it’s much more likely that the next generation of employees will need to know how to work alongside AI to get the most out of it.

Whether it’s boosting student success, improving job prospects, keeping them connected when they’re away from campus or leading the way in research, the AI future is here in higher education. Our team at CDW has helped colleges and universities formulate AI strategies and is ready to help institutions prepare for this transformation.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

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