It’s easy to feel that academic, financial, and career advisors in higher ed could be replaced by AI, especially with all the talk about ChatGPT and generative AI. As more colleges and universities adopt technology to help achieve desired student outcomes, this future seems more like an upcoming reality.
But the adoption of AI should not—and does not—mean the replacement of key staff like academic, career, and financial aid advisors. In fact, when used right, AI and technology will augment, not replace, advisors and their ability to better support students.
Why AI Won’t Replace Advisors
There are several reasons why advisors will not be replaced by AI and technology. First, advising is more than just sharing information with students—it is a relationship-based career in which building trust and rapport are key. Students need to feel that they can trust the information source who is guiding them through their educational journey.
Similarly, advising requires a human connection that cannot be replaced by AI and technology. Advisors provide an human connection to their students as they guide them throughout their education and support them through challenging times.
Finally, advising students requires a level of judgement and discretion that AI may not be able to replicate. AI can collect and analyze huge amounts of data that help an advisor make a nuanced decision, but it does not currently have the level of sophistication where it can make those decisions on its own. Even though humans are also imperfect, AI should not be allowed to operate without human input and supervision.
How AI Can Help Augment Advisors
While it cannot fully replace advisors, AI can enhance an advisor’s ability to help students meet their goals, feel connected to their institution, and make progress. Presently, most advisors across the country have an extremely high student caseload, with a national average of 400 students to one advisor. This makes it difficult for advisors to provide quality support to students and to support all students in their caseload. AI and technology can help advisors rise to the challenge and augment their ability to support students.
A Data-Driven Model, an “Open-Door Policy”
AI can help advisors take a proactive, data-informed approach to advising. Often, advising operates in an “open-door policy” model in which advisors are available to help any student who approaches them. In other words, advisors’ doors are always open. This model works great for students who know they need support, know where to find it, and have the capacity to go out of their way to receive help. But for first-gen students or adult learners, for example, an open-door advising model could leave them feeling lost and navigating challenges alone.
The problem with an open-door advising model is that it tends to focus on students on either end of a spectrum: on one end you’ll find proactive students who seek guidance in advance of an issue, and on the other are students who are already in a crisis and with limited options. This doesn’t mean that advisors are just sitting on their hands, but rather that it is challenging to navigate so many students.
With AI and technology, advisers can use data to proactively reach out to students who show signs of needing support before they hit a crisis. A data-driven approach can help advisors target students in the “murky middle,” provide the right interventions at the right time, avert crises, and ultimately improve outcomes. AI can help advisors identify students who need help and empower them with the ability to provide support just when students need it.
Automation and Scale
AI and technology can also help advisors automate and scale advising tasks. Creating academic plans, scheduling appointments, and sending messages are all important yet time consuming tasks that take time away from advisors’ ability to connect with students. By automating these tasks with AI, advisors have a greater capacity to connect with students and work on more complex or sensitive cases.
Advisors can also scale their advising efforts with AI. AI’s ability to conduct efficient data analyses can help advisors identify students who need support and deploy that support more easily. As an example, an advisor may use AI to identify students who have not met with them to make an academic plan and send those students a personalized message with a link to make an appointment. AI can make it easier and faster for advisors to know what students need a hand at the right time, elevating their ability to support students.
Provide a Personalized Experience
Finally, AI can also help advisors create a more personalized experience for students. Personalization is important because it is a key component in creating a sense of belonging for students, which is linked to better student outcomes. AI can facilitate a personalized experience by identifying individual student needs or generating personalized content, like text messages, learning pathways, or resource recommendations.
Tools like Discourse Analytics’ Digital Counselor empower advisors with the ability to quickly gain insight into a student’s mindset and tailor their interactions with students to that mindset. Not every person wants to be spoken to in the same way. The Digital Counselor uses existing institutional data from LMS, SIS, CRM, and more to generate insights into how a student thinks and how to best engage and communicate with them. Instead of figuring out what motivates and discourages a student over the series of several meetings, advisors can quickly learn about a student’s mindset and deploy personalized interventions.
AI has the power to personalize a student’s journey so that they receive relevant information in a way that speaks to them. This way, advisors can create a closer connection with students more efficiently and increase students’ likelihood of meeting their goals.
Helping Advisors Change Lives
AI opens many possibilities for advisors to enhance their ability to support students. AI can help advisors automate tasks, provide a more personalized experience, and make data-driven decisions that allow them to support students at just the right time. Advisors are an essential component of a student’s education, and their human touch cannot be replaced by AI. But with the right tools, advisors can enhance their ability to change lives.