Can technology improve student wellness and retention?

By Carolina and Claudia Recchi

college students
Image credit: Depositphotos

While Generation Z is more aware and vocal about their overall wellness, their comfort level of sharing any struggles is more often displayed when behind a screen. In a world where most of their daily tasks, including ordering food, dating, and shopping, are all done behind a screen, the norm for them is to also share whatever is on their mind through a short post or message via text or social media behind the same screen, as opposed to face-to-face.

As the back half of this generation is beginning or already entered their college career, we need to think about how this digital oversharing translates into a college setting. Given their varying levels of discomfort with interpersonal communication, it’s likely that many of these students are feeling isolated when transitioning to college life, but are unlikely to seek out help from professors or on-campus resources—which can result in them becoming at-risk for dropping out. With an already significant freshman dropout rate of 30 percent, colleges need to reevaluate how they’re communicating with and supporting students.

The implementation of a chatbot or alternative form of digital communication may be the solution to solve this problem and ultimately improve a student’s wellness and retention.

Students are more comfortable opening up and communicating with a chatbot or similar solution

This generation of students are more likely to open up to non-emotional chats or robots that don’t judge or have a reaction, especially when the context of the conversation is personal or taboo. Many college students are struggling with finances, as well as other personal issues like family or work obligations, and even mental health. You can understand why it may be hard for students to open up face-to-face to an advisor or other campus staff regarding those extremely personal issues, especially when they are essentially strangers.

With a chatbot or similar solution, the student can be in their comfort zone, whether they are at home or in their dorm room when expressing themselves. They can get as personal as they would like without hesitation, knowing the conversation will remain private and that they will not have to endure the (often self-inflicted) embarrassment or judgment when expressing themselves face-to-face.

Communicating digitally will help identify struggling students before they become at risk of dropping out

With Gen Z feeling more at ease disclosing personal struggles behind a screen, their tendency to be transparent and overshare will assist school administrators and faculty members in identifying students who may be at-risk as soon as possible. With consistent, proactive outreach via digital platforms, schools will be able to improve the opportunity for early intervention instead of waiting for an advisor to see grades slipping at their mid-semester check-in or see a student rack up absences in one week.

Instead of relying on these lagging indicators, which are often symptoms of a larger problem, engaging regularly with students through a means they are comfortable with will help uncover the root of the problem—whether it’s financial distress, balancing work and school, or mental health issues. This will, in turn, enable an administrator or faculty member to work through this problem with the student and provide them with the proper support and resources to be able to continue their education through a tough time.

Collecting enough data leads to more accurate diagnosis of frequent trends

Implementing an AI-powered chatbot or another form of digital communication will help universities collect data to pinpoint trends in at-risk students more quickly and efficiently, and in turn, improve the student experience moving forward.

For example, if students are struggling with a specific course or subject within a course, the feedback can help the university address the issue earlier and provide the correct support, whether it be through on-campus tutoring services, or if that’s not the best option, see what other courses are available for the student to take to meet the same requirements.

Another helpful result from collecting data is seeing what resources on campus are being used frequently and are most helpful to students. If tutoring appointments are being made from reaching out to the messaging platform and they directly result in improving students’ grades, then the university may want to add more resources in that area. If the mental health facility on campus isn’t open when students need to talk, then the university can extend their hours of operation.

This data provides colleges and universities with access to helpful feedback from students that will guide how to use their resources and tuition money in the most impactful way possible, which will subsequently improve retention rates and student wellness.

Is this the right way?

Colleges and universities have been failing students by relying on the same lagging indicators such as grades and attendance to identify at-risk students. As Generation Z continues to enter college, technology will only become more and more part of their daily communication, and it’s important to give them a voice through these channels. By adjusting and offering a more modern way to engage with students through a platform they are comfortable with will positively impact both the student experience and college completion rates.

About the authors

Carolina and Claudia Recchi are co-CEOs and founders of EdSights.


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