In late 2017, University of West Florida (UWF) fully embraced the use of behaviorally intelligent chatbots when they started using the technology to help students apply to and enroll in classes.

The results have been impressive, including an unprecedented 15% increase in fall 2020 enrollment, and a 131% increase in the number of “high-achieving” first-year students from 2017 to 2020. UWF also saw a 33.3% increase in completed transfer applications, and a 35% increase in confirmed transfer students for their 2020 spring semester. 

This track record of strong efficacy led UWF’s staff to introduce their chatbot, Argie, to their current student population to enhance their engagement and retention efforts in March of 2020. Their goals for retaining students have centered around the completion of necessary tasks for re-enrollment. Steps like bill payment and class registration had traditionally proven to be stumbling blocks keeping hundreds of UWF’s students from persisting through their studies each year. However, the staff used Argie to target groups of students with text campaigns that nudged them to complete any tasks that were required for re-enrollment.

In the past, UWF had to dismiss 180-200 students per semester for nonpayment. Before they implemented their chatbot for engagement and retention, UWF’s staff had resorted to reminding students about outstanding payments through time-consuming phone calls and inefficient email outreach — yielding only a 10-20% response rate. 

Before the start of the fall 2020 semester, the team at West Florida sent a single text campaign to students who still needed to complete bill payments. They saw a 70% response rate. As a result, they dismissed 65% fewer students than they had during previous semesters.

Argie’s text message campaign sent to students with outstanding balances

The University of West Florida refers to it as a “stop-out” when a student completes an academic semester but fails to enroll for the following term. Their staff typically attempts to re-engage students and help them enroll for the next eligible semester. Today, the institution uses proactive text campaigns to accomplish this. However, before partnering with Mainstay, UWF would try to connect with these students through phone calls — which usually resulted in just a 10% return. 

When Argie started texting stop-out students during the summer of 2020, the university welcomed back 20% more previously stopped-out students for the fall semester — an achievement that’s even more profound considering the toll COVID-19 took on other higher ed student success teams’ efforts during the same time period.

Argie’s timely interactive nudge texted to UWF stop-out students

UWF was eager to expand their partnership with Mainstay and reach more students after seeing this significant and positive impact on retention metrics within the first couple of months. They quickly recognized the increasing importance of using chatbot technology to reach all of their students using text messaging (students’ preferred channel) as social distancing introduced new engagement challenges. The UWF team is excited to use Argie to exceed their retention goals during this most particularly difficult time — and to continue cutting down on time-intensive communication methods going forward.