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How graduate enrollment teams are using AI

Results and recommendations from our new survey

February 16, 2024, By Beth Donaldson, Managing Director, Consulting Services

Over the past few months, AI has been a ubiquitous topic in the news and in daily life—a friend even confessed to me recently that she used ChatGPT to write her holiday cards last year. And at EAB, we’ve been keen to understand how the “new AI” can make our partners’ jobs a little easier. Which is why we’ve conducted research into AI applications for graduate and adult enrollment leaders. In this post, I’ll be sharing some of the top findings from our new report.

What Is the “New AI”?

Before we dive in, I think it’s important to do some level-setting about what we mean when we talk about the “new AI.” There’s a fair amount of confusion about what the new AI is, both within and beyond enrollment marketing, which isn’t surprising given that the lack of a standard definition for it. At EAB, we’re defining the new AI as having one or all of the following key characteristics:

Hallmarks of the New AI

  • Sophistication of output

    Output of the new AIs is indistinguishable from text, speech, images etc. produced by intelligent, skilled, and highly knowledgeable humans.

  • Natural-language processing

    The new AIs can understand questions posed to them in casual, everyday language and can respond in kind. This lets laypersons make productive use of them with little training.

  • Advanced build features

    – Ability to self-optimize

    – Incorporation of deep-learning neural networks

    – Use of automated statistical analysis (versus manually defined rules)

    – Trained on massive data sets

  • Chatbots

  • Decision algorithms

  • Predictive models

  • Automated comm flows

Relatively Few Graduate Enrollment Teams Are Using AI

We were curious to learn whether and how grad enrollment teams are using AI, so we conducted a poll in partnership with NAGAP. We found that there’s been limited uptake to date, with only 20% of graduate enrollment teams reporting that they are currently using AI in their marketing and enrollment efforts, and only 22% of graduate leaders saying that they use AI proficiently. We also found that only 4% of graduate enrollment teams have a formal plan for using AI and only 8% have made adoption of AI a strategic priority.


Two AI Priorities for Graduate Enrollment Leaders

Given this data, I’m willing to bet that your team doesn’t use AI frequently. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncertain of how to best incorporate AI into your strategy, here are two good places to start:

Recommendation #1: Alleviate staff workloads with AI

One of the primary advantages of the new AI is that it can meaningfully reduce your staff’s workload—a pressing concern for most teams. Even using the free version of ChatGPT can have a big impact on your team’s work, including by reducing the amount of time taken to perform tasks—especially writing-related ones—and by improving the quality of your team’s output. One analysis found that ChatGPT can shorten the time needed to complete certain writing tasks by 83%.

Unsurprisingly, some of the potential use cases that grad enrollment leaders find most compelling are related to writing, including drafting content such as website copy or emails and designing or optimizing communication flows. The chart below shows the level of interest in potential applications of AI.

For guidance on using ChatGPT effectively, download our report.

Recommendation #2: Prepare for AI adoption

Over the next few months, we expect many more important AI-fueled innovations to emerge that will have immediate relevance for admissions work, and you’ll want to make sure you’re ready to hit the ground running when they arrive. Unfortunately, keeping track of these developments likely won’t be easy, given the pace and volume of innovations we’ve already seen.

Here are three tips to make these innovations more manageable.

Three Ways to Make Tracking the Terrain More Manageable

  • Focus on key use cases

    – Student-facing chatbots

    – Application processing

    – Automated mass-customization of comm flows

  • Continuously monitor the landscape

    – Favor vendors you know and trust

    – Talk to your peers

    – Set up Google alerts

  • Establish criteria to use in assessing potential AI investments

    – Expect to encounter “vaporware”

    – Favor vendors with established track records

    – Ask for references and evidence of results

These innovations bring us into exciting—and unknown—territory. Whether your team decides to embrace AI wholeheartedly or take more of a wait-and-see approach, I hope you find these recommendations helpful as we navigate this new terrain.

For more on AI in graduate enrollment, download our insight paper.

Beth Donaldson

Beth Donaldson

Managing Director, Consulting Services

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