Each year, roughly 10% to 20% of incoming students gain college acceptances, tell the school they intend to enroll, and may even pay a deposit but then… never show up on campus.
The phenomenon, called summer melt, can cost colleges hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tuition revenue—at a time when shifting demographics are already creating other challenges for recruitment and enrollment.
The problem is particularly acute for low-income and first-generation students. Even if they do end up matriculating, they might interpret their frustration with the process as another reason they won’t do well in college, writes Annie Yi for EAB‘s Student Success Insights blog.
Georgia State University (GSU) has become a leading institution in recruiting, retaining, and graduating a diverse student population. When GSU leaders decided to tackle summer melt, they knew that previous research had found that extra communication with students could help prevent summer melt, but they were concerned about scaling up the strategies for their large student population.
So institution leaders worked with a third party to create a chatbot to help guide students through their pre-matriculation tasks. Called “Pounce” after the university’s mascot, the chatbot takes in data about each student’s progress and creates customized messages to help each student complete the next step in the process, whatever that might be.
Looking to technology to solve summer melt was a bold step, writes Shalina Chatlani for Education Dive. Higher education leaders are often wary that automation can truly replace human support and interaction.
But at GSU, the experiment has paid off. After implementing Pounce, summer melt at GSU dropped by 21%. Anecdotally, leaders also found that the system made students more proactive. The regular nudges and reminders encouraged students to build a habit of identifying and asking questions about small problems before they got too large to resolve.
Leaders say the approach helped both students and administrators get back time and energy they could re-focus on more strategic tasks. For students, being able to rely on nudges and having the knowledge that they’d completed everything they need to do reduced their anxiety and distraction so they could focus on learning. For administrators, automating some of the most common issues allowed them to focus on cases that needed a human touch.
GSU’s approach has been successful because they have used their chatbot “in a way that enhances the institution’s existing model,” says Alana Dunagan, a higher education researcher at the Clayton Christensen Institute.
Nudges should serve as a “bridge,” not a replacement, for services like advising and financial aid, says Yi. “The Pounce model shows that the best nudges lower the barriers for students to seek help, while creating a bridge between students and resources they otherwise wouldn’t have realized they existed” (Page/Gehlbach, Harvard Business Review, 1/16/18; Chatlani, Education Dive, 2/14/18).