We recently came across a PR newswire piece about another technology company planning to harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to solve the challenges of higher education. A few of us are former product managers and sometimes we feel like Abe Simpson yelling at a cloud as we struggle with the futility of trying to combat these overly-hyped product marketing campaigns. However, as management consultants we’re driven to have conversations with clients about what technologies can and cannot do, and more importantly, the best way to apply these solutions at their institutions to drive meaningful action and change.

There are two essential questions to ask when considering any technology purchase: “What problem are we trying to solve?” and “How will we use the output of this product to solve it?” [There is a third question of “Do you know what the technology is doing?”, but we will save that for a future post!] It takes more than just technology to increase enrollment and student success. By itself, AI can’t improve a market that has become more competitive due to declining high school graduation rates, increasingly cost-conscious applicants, and other schools tapping into the same applicant pool. It won’t keep students on path, complete their degree for them, or graduate them on time. It doesn’t increase your alumni giving to help fund scholarships or new facilities.

The key to any technology is how you use it. AI and predictive analytics are powerful tools. We have used them to develop numerous predictive models that have helped institutions better identify at-risk students and which applicants are more likely to matriculate—and worked with our clients to develop and implement strategies for interventions with these students. Additionally, our State and Local team colleagues are industry leaders in helping state comptroller offices better identify fraudulent tax returns. These gains are made by using data to create meaningful analyses and, more importantly, choosing and evaluating the best course of action based on that information.

AI and other technologies are only part of the solution. The most valuable problem-solving technology is the one you carry around above your shoulders. Fully understand the problem you are trying to solve and steer your institution down a successful path using human-devised strategies and organizational change tactics based on actionable analysis coming from reliable data sources. Otherwise, AI is nothing more than the machine that goes “ping”.


-Higher Ed Team, ASR a GCOM Company