The rapid rise of AI tools like ChatGPT has sparked important conversations about artificial intelligence’s role in higher education. But if your institution is simply reacting to each new AI development as it emerges, you risk losing sight of the big picture.
Instead, higher ed leaders should take a step back to think strategically. The most critical question isn’t “How do we use this new tool?” but rather “What key challenges do we need AI to help solve?”
Here are 4 strategic questions you can ask to help guide AI implementation at your institution:
1. What persistent problems limit your institution's success?
Take time to carefully pinpoint high-impact challenges that have historically hindered your university’s ability to drive student outcomes, equity, and overall success. These likely include persistent issues like demonstrating the value of higher education, improving a sense of student belonging, addressing declining enrollment and low graduation rates among underserved students, and managing overwhelmed student support services.
Be specific about identifying the areas where new solutions could create step-change improvements for your institution. Then analyze how AI-powered tools could effectively complement and enhance human efforts to tackle those challenges at scale.
2. Where can AI complement human work?
One of the greatest strengths of AI is its ability to take on high-volume, repetitive tasks in order to free up valuable human time and attention for higher-level, complex work. Now is a good time to review your current processes to identify opportunities where AI technology could automate common student questions, routine processes, or basic communications.
It’s also important to think beyond simple questions and answers. Using AI to listen to students at scale is a great way to harness this technology to improve the efficacy of your team’s work. By identifying when individual students need more personal human support, your team can offer the most impactful guidance at the ideal time. AI can identify these messages and automatically escalate conversations to your team so you know exactly which students need individualized attention.
Making this shift allows staff to focus their energy on addressing personal or complex issues, guiding individual students, and providing impactful one-on-one support. By rethinking AI with a human-centered lens, you can use this emerging technology to augment your team’s abilities and forge a path to next-level student experiences.
3. How can AI enhance the student experience at scale?
AI should not only streamline processes — it should also tangibly improve the student experience. Consider how AI-powered solutions can provide more responsive, personalized support or deliver key resources when students need them most. What role could AI play in fostering a greater sense of belonging and connectedness across your student community? Are there other ways you can use AI to improve student outcomes at your school?
For example, Georgia State University partnered with Mainstay to launch their AI-powered chatbot which proactively messaged over 250,000 individual students and only escalated 42 complex cases to advisors. This round-the-clock support helped the school boost enrollment, increase retention, and improve equity.
4. How will AI change the way you work?
To generate the most value, AI implementation should be part of evolving internal workflows, not replacing human roles. Take time to evaluate how responsibilities may shift as AI handles routine, high-volume tasks.
How will key roles expand to focus more on complex areas? What tools or resources would you need to make this transition? Tacking this will empower key staff across advising, admissions, student services, and more to expand their roles into higher-impact areas.
Proactively rethinking workflows often requires new training, increased technical support, as well as planning and oversight. But the payoff is more empowered employees able to make deeper connections with students when it matters most.
Expand your AI knowledge
Using a strategy guided by targeted objectives, higher ed leaders can tap into the power of AI to drive improvements in student outcomes and experiences. The technology is moving fast, but the best approach starts with asking the right questions.
If you want to expand your understanding of the AI landscape, be sure to check out the AASCU’s University Leader’s Glossary for AI and Machine Learning. This helpful resource breaks down key terminology and concepts you need to know. With clarity on what AI can and can’t do, you’ll be equipped to cut through the hype and unlock targeted solutions to your institution’s greatest obstacles around enrollment, retention, and student success.