The “Sunny” Side of Artificial Intelligence in Higher Ed: Student-Supporting Chatbots

Part 2 of 2 articles about Artificial Intelligence in Higher Education

by Aaron Merlos, 2023 Scheidel Foundation College Success Fellow

In the last article, The New Horizon of AI in Higher Ed, we spoke about the pros and cons of using artificial intelligence (AI) in higher education. In this article, we’ll discuss how two of the Scheidel Foundation’s grantees have recognized the utility of AI in higher education and have incorporated this resource into their frameworks. Both have established AI-powered, behavioral science-driven chatbots that students access as an app on their phones.

Florida’s Take Stock in Children‘s chatbot is named Sunny, the AI chatbot (“Sunny”). Because TSIC’s students attend college across the state, the chat box is made to contain data on Florida’s 40 public colleges and universities. The data on these colleges and universities include orientation deadlines, financial aid office links, drop-add dates, bill payment deadlines, mental health and counseling links, career services, and other information vital to student persistence and success in their postsecondary studies. All of this information is at the students’ fingertips in one place in real-time whenever a student has a question. Sunny also contains institution-specific “nudges” and sends quick polls to determine if students meet deadlines and milestones.  This allows TSIC’s College Completion Coaches to track, and coach students with any further assistance or information they might need to continue their postsecondary studies. Sunny also houses the questions TSIC students ask, enabling TSIC to create more personalized support for their students year-round. 

Student on subway car, gazing at mobile phone screen.

College Success Foundation – District of Columbia (CSF-DC) is another of our grantees implementing an AI chatbox for their students. The chatbot, named “Chippy” can communicate in over 100 languages with their students and parents 24 hours daily with the use of proactive and reactive communications. Chippy uses an Intelligent Conversational Platform to provide targeted academic resources for their students. The chatbot is programmed to identify academic resources with a specific focus that supports key performance metrics for increased academic achievement. In addition to providing resources for academic success, Chippy reminds students of regular meetings with their CSF-DC Advisor and sends nudges and check-ins on milestones within “Seven Life Domains” (like Finances & Employment, Housing, and Physical & Mental Health). Chippy provides CSF-DC parents and staff with data-driven feedback to keep children on pace for college achievement. As CSF-DC is a community-based organization with students attending colleges across the U.S., the AI chatbox greatly assists with its reach and efficacy as an organization. Chippy works with CSF-DC and students in all aspects needed to succeed and keep them on track for college success. 

With the development of these two AI chatbots, Take Stock in Children and the College Success Foundation use artificial intelligence to help their students in a more tailored and impactful way. Take Stock in Children has served communities across Florida for over 28 years and helps 15,000 students annually in their higher education journey. The College Success Foundation has worked in the District of Colombia for 17 years and serves nearly 1,200 students annually. Both of these incredible organizations have created lasting impacts across their communities and with their innovation of AI chatbots, the future continues to be bright for their students.