What Behavioral Intelligence means for student engagement

Kelly Hughes
Kelly Hughes

October 25, 2021

Every year, humans ask the Internet 2.5 trillion questions, and search engines give back 2.5 trillion sets of answers. Before Google, most people didn’t realize how valuable instant answers were. Similarly, many people still don’t yet realize the power of a relevant, well-timed question. When we’re asked the right question at the right time, it can spark conversations that will open our minds to a new way of thinking. A simple question can be all it takes to inspire us and set us on a journey to achieve our goals. 

This is especially true for students seeking to take the next step. Even as today’s college students face myriad challenges and pressures, the right conversation at precisely the right moment can make a world of difference. These conversations often start with a single question. Whether that’s “do you need help paying for college?” or “how are you feeling today?,” sparking a conversation is what makes it possible for us to help millions of students. Behavioral Intelligence is what empowers institutions to turn thoughtful, well-timed questions into meaningful conversations that pique their students’ curiosity. And when students experience it for themselves, Behavioral Intelligence has a profoundly positive impact on their academic journey.

Definition of Behavioral Intelligence

At Mainstay, we use Behavioral Intelligence to help schools bridge the gap between awareness and action for their students — between setting a goal and making progress toward that goal. It’s what enables our partner institutions to deliver accurate, empathetic, and relevant support to their students at scale, and to learn from those conversations so they can influence even more positive student outcomes. 

Our white paper, “All about Behavioral Intelligence,” explores the roles that technology and people play in shaping positive student behavior. It also examines the history of Behavioral Intelligence and the importance of showing people how certain decisions will help them take the next step toward a more fulfilling life, instead of pushing them to take a certain action.

That’s a critical distinction, and it’s the reason why we define Behavioral Intelligence as a method for helping people identify and achieve their goals through conversations. To be truly effective, those conversations must combine three key components: Accurate information, empathetic responses, and contextual relevance.

Behavioral Intelligence is deeply rooted in science. Specifically data science (the analysis and interpretation of large data sets) and behavioral science (the study of how and why humans make decisions). Mainstay’s Student Engagement Platform combines these disciplines to offer colleges and universities a better understanding of their students and an ability to provide guidance that shapes behaviors in ways that lead to positive development and growth.

Behavioral Intelligence basics 

The beauty of Behavioral Intelligence is that it isn’t a brand-new idea. Rather, it’s a stitching together of proven concepts that are intuitive, backed by research, and supported by practical experience. These concepts can be distilled into three distinct components that work in concert: Accurate information (IQ), stated in an empathetic way (EQ), with careful consideration of contextual relevance (CQ).

IQ: Sweating the small stuff

IQ is the foundational element of Behavioral Intelligence. Think of IQ as the facts and figures: The accurate information that a student needs to make the right decision at the right time, such as “The FAFSA is due this Friday” or “Here’s how to get in touch with a career counselor.” IQ is often delivered as a response to a question a student asks. When it’s done right, IQ frees up staff to spend more time focusing on complex issues that matter for student success, and less time answering phone calls and emails.

EQ: The way you say it matters

A lot of Behavioral Intelligence comes down to relationship-building. EQ is not just about what you say, but the way you say it. For many institutions, tapping into EQ means infusing a behaviorally intelligent chatbot with personality, so it can offer positive support in an encouraging and familiar way. Not only does this approach provide students with a judgment-free way to ask questions, but it also helps strengthen their relationship with the school and drive positive outcomes.

CQ: Culture and context

To reach its full potential, Behavioral Intelligence must go beyond accuracy and empathy to also provide authentic support that considers culture, community, and contextual relevance. That’s why CQ is key to Behavioral Intelligence.

For first-generation students and those from traditionally underserved populations, CQ is particularly important because it helps schools build a sense of belonging for all students. When students feel supported by their campus community, they are more likely to be engaged and succeed long-term. 

The human side of Behavioral Intelligence

Mainstay’s work with hundreds of colleges and universities has proven that it’s possible to help millions of students with a Behavioral Intelligence approach that draws on qualities that are uniquely human — like empathy and contextual understanding. 

The human side of Behavioral Intelligence can be nothing short of transformative when it’s thoughtfully applied. The team at Kansas State University Salina Aerospace and Technology Campus (formerly Kansas State University Polytechnic) experienced this first hand after partnering with Mainstay to launch their behaviorally intelligent chatbot in 2019. Since then, the school has seen a dramatic increase in student engagement. More importantly, students’ lives have been changed for the better thanks to their interactions with the university’s chatbot.

The technology behind Behavioral Intelligence 

While human elements are the key to Behavioral Intelligence, technology is what makes it possible to reach and engage with students at scale on such a personal level. Mainstay’s Student Engagement Platform enables institutions to:

Learn all about Behavioral Intelligence

With the right combination of IQ, EQ, and CQ, your institution can have a profound impact on students’ personal growth and progress. Download our white paper, “All about Behavioral Intelligence,” to explore how this research-backed approach drives positive student outcomes at scale. 


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