Empowering student success and retention
To thrive in today’s shifting higher education landscape, institutions must embrace innovation. Led by Dr. Ina Agnew, Vice President for Student Services, Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT) recognized the need for a new approach to address the challenges they faced. Limited staff and high turnover, coupled with the demand for 24/7 communication from students and declining enrollment over the past decade, prompted OSUIT to seek innovative solutions beyond a traditional web bot.
With an inefficient CRM system and only one staff member with insufficient formal training dedicated to student success/retention, the OSUIT team needed a solution that could amplify their engagement efforts without overburdening their limited resources. Through a dedication to intentional, AI-enhanced outreach, OSUIT transformed its approach to improving student connections and meeting enrollment goals.
A partnership to increase staff support and improve retention
Dr. Agnew and her team were initially interested in exploring texting solutions before beginning their partnership with Mainstay. This marked a turning point for OSUIT as they implemented Pistol Pete, an AI-powered chatbot, into their communication outreach. This strategic move allowed OSUIT to connect with students in a personalized and contextually relevant manner, overcoming limited resources and inefficient communication.
Pistol Pete is powered by Mainstay’s research-backed knowledge base and proven scripts adjusted to fit the school’s specific needs and to reflect the mascot’s personality. Mainstay built 1,196 insights into OSUIT’s retention campaigns and aligned the text scripts with the institution’s existing framework, ensuring relevant information was easily integrated. A proven campaign calendar ensures timely delivery of messages that align with the student’s journey. Significantly, Pistol Pete’s knowledge base evolves through each interaction, simultaneously enhancing the chatbot’s intelligence and engagement rates without creating more work for the staff.
Impressive strides in retention
With student engagement at the forefront of OSUIT’s goals, texting via Pistol Pete serves as a reliable means of sending reminders to students about the next steps in their college journeys. These messages encourage students to complete specific tasks, like filling out their FAFSA or settling a bill. They can also be used to gather immediate feedback from students so the school can address their most pressing needs.
Between January 1 and July 7, 2023, OSUIT sent 17 targeted text campaigns. This tailored approach integrated research-backed scripts and knowledge insights to create a more personalized student experience. The results were remarkable — achieving a 41% increase in student response rates. By leveraging customized messaging, the campaign strengthened connections between students and the school.
Survey results that guide action and improvement
Jake Murphy, overseeing prospective student services, witnessed an 18.6% active engagement rate in a survey that focused on how the current term was going for students, which informed Murphy and his team of the student sentiment, and how to best route students based on their response. What’s more, students who responded with open text answers enabled the OSUIT team to listen at scale.
These surveys now contain auto escalations, where Pistol Pete routes messages directly to the appropriate teams based on student responses. This not only streamlined the communication process but also empowered OSUIT staff to focus on more human-centric work.
Now that we’re well into the term, I wanted to check in on how you’re doing. Which best describes how you’re feeling so far about this term? (pls reply w/ one number): : Great : Good : Just ok : Not so good
Nice, it sounds like you’re on top of stuff! Make sure to fit downtime into your schedule bc your student experience should include your studies and exploring what your campus has to offer. I’ll check in w/ you soon. Don’t forget to check out the LASSO Center. You’ve got this!
Supporting students while saving hundreds of staff hours
The launch of Pistol Pete resulted in significant time savings for OSUIT staff. By handling 6,160 messages, this new technology saved staff over 120 hours between January and May of 2023. The chatbot’s accessibility and responsiveness during non-business hours and weekends was crucial. In that same time span, Pistol Pete addressed 1,304 student messages after hours and 296 messages over weekends.
Enhancing student belonging and connectedness
In an effort to check the pulse on student well-being, OSUIT sent out a 5-question interactive survey regarding student connections at the university. By messaging 1,962 students, OSUIT was able to gain insight into if and how students feel a part of the community — on and off campus. The campaign got a 16.7% response rate, and of the students who responded, OSUIT learned:
- 10% feel part of the community
- 67% feel they know how to connect with faculty/staff/peers
- 36% said they feel they found a club or organization that helped them feel connected
236 students responded to open-ended questions about how they have engaged with the community and provided feedback about how OSUIT could do more to engage them as students. One of the open-ended questions on the survey asked students, “What can OSUIT do to help you feel more connected to community, peers, or faculty?” 176 students responded to this question, providing OSUIT with insight into the need for more on-campus events and events that support online students. Since then, OSUIT has begun considering solutions to improve engagement.
Fall 2023 also has reflected substantial progress, with OSUIT seeing an initiation of 2,800 student applications, a strong conversion rate with 2,739 applications submitted, and the enrollment of 787 new students. Remarkably, retention rates reached 66%, and graduation rates increased to 40%, underscoring the impact of OSUIT’s intentional engagement strategies.
In addition to a surge in applications, OSUIT has also seen strong conversion rates, and impressive retention rates. Comparing Fall 2023 to Fall 2022, the partnership with Mainstay showcased a 5% increase in headcount and an 8% increase in credit hour production. These positive outcomes allowed OSUIT to increase budgets so they could offer employee raises, ensuring more student support.
OSUIT’s intentional approach to engagement, leveraging Mainstay’s technology, resulted in real improvements in enrollment, retention, and overall institutional success. The collaboration between OSUIT and Mainstay stands as a model for institutions seeking efficient and effective ways to engage and support their student populations using proven AI-powered, empathetic engagement.