Winston-Salem State University is part of the GearUp program designed to provide admissions-focused chatbots from Mainstay for ten schools in the North Carolina system. GearUp’s goal is to reach students from rural areas and of low-income backgrounds in an effort to increase their access to resources that will reduce barriers to higher education.

WSSU sought to enhance their communications strategies to supplement email and direct mail. The university was looking for a tool that would also allow staff to provide greater service to students while freeing up the significant time spent responding individually to each inquiry. With an AI-powered chatbot, students could receive answers to questions in hundreds of topics, at any time, via text message.

WSSU was very successful in using their chatbot, aptly named “Winston,” during their first year, fall 2017 – fall 2018. The communications they sent students yielded high engagement. Thanks to this, they were able to help students throughout different steps in the enrollment process, resulting in a 74% year-over-year improvement in the number of first time freshmen who paid their bill on time and a 37% improvement on freshmen who completed immunization compliance on time. Ultimately, freshman yield went from 21.6% to 23.3%, and the overall enrollment at WSSU grew by 2%, bringing 92 additional students to campus.

In 2020, WSSU will be introducing a retention chatbot to communicate with all undergraduate students through graduation. They’re also adding a chatbot to the school’s website to help students, parents, alumni, and other interested visitors get fast, accurate answers to their questions.