Texas is launching an innovative virtual advising project to improve college access and completion. We ask Siri and Alexa about the weather. We ask how long it will take to get to work. And, we ask who makes the best BBQ in town – why not use similar technology to help students navigate myriad questions that come with a transition to college?
Now a virtual advising chatbot pairs artificial intelligence with near-peer advisers to answer Texans’ questions about college. This chatbot also provides information and online resources. When necessary, it connects Texans to advisers who can provide the next level of detailed guidance.
This project builds on the success of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s (THECB) Advise TX College Advising Corps. This program places recent university graduates on high school campuses as near-peer advisers to provide high school students with information about how to enroll and pay for college.
The Potential of Virtual Advising
Texas is a large state. The size and scope of our education system is no exception. Given our size, it is difficult to design an advising intervention that guarantees a face-to-face interaction with each potential student. Yet it is obvious that students need advising on how to access and complete a college education.
- In 2017, more than 150,000 Texas public high school graduates did not enroll directly in college after high school.
- Between 2012-14, more than 160,000 students stopped out of Texas colleges without earning a credential.
The virtual advising chatbot provides scalable support to Texans like these, looking to enter or return to college. Virtual advising allows institutions to reach individuals via a simple text message or online chat.
Institutions across the country such as Georgia State University, and all over Texas are using similar tools to:
The Chatbot Meets Students Where They Are
This spring, the THECB and its partner The University of Texas at Austin launched the higher education virtual advising chatbot. It was released to targeted Advise TX partner high schools and to a population of students in South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley who started but did not finish their degrees.
The chatbot is uniquely poised to help reach these populations and other hard-to-reach student populations across the state.
The chatbot is accessible by text message and online chat for personalized, on-demand conversations. This makes it possible to reach students and potential students 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on their computers and mobile devices. Near-peer advisers based in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin provide live support when a question requires more detailed support.
The virtual advising program has unique benefits, including:
- Meeting students where they are – on their mobile devices and computers. This is important for young people who are likely to be “tech natives” with high expectations for content coming to them in accessible formats. It is also important for adults who may be busy juggling many responsibilities and need quick, easy-to-digest information.
- Answering questions 24/7 – removing the need for students to seek support during business hours – and provide on-demand support.
- Improving efficiency by helping triage student questions, answering commonly asked questions and freeing up advisers to have more in-depth and focused conversations.
- Reaching returning, under-resourced, and other typically hard-to-reach student populations to help identify and overcome obstacles to entering, re-entering and completing college.
We know that college is important. Research shows that higher education pays off. Lifetime earnings for those with a certificate or degree increase significantly over those with only a high school diploma. That’s why we encourage every Texan to complete some type of education beyond high school. Virtual advising can help us more effectively reach students who started but did not finish their degrees, and is a critical tool to effectively reach future generations such as Gen Z.
As Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes often says, essential services such as academic advising are too often only available as an option, with predictable results. Studies show that mandatory or “intrusive” interventions typically yield better results. That’s because this higher education chatbot is readily available. “We must embrace innovation that supports 60x30TX and paves the way to a bright future for all Texans,” he said.
The THECB will expand the virtual advising project later this year, introducing virtual advising to potential students statewide. By improving our ability to reach students and provide timely, proactive advising, we are poised to help support more Texans to complete a college education.
Kelly Carper Polden is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is the assistant director of external relations, responsible for state agency communications and media relations, for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. She has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning, strategic communication professional with extensive experience in media and public relations, C-suite communications, global events management, brand/corporate image management, and strategic and crisis communication management. You can read her posts here.