After 3 years of declining retention, Bethel University launches an AI powered chatbot and starts seeing a 4% uptick in retention after just one semester

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Over the past three years, Bethel saw the number of first year
students returning for their second year steadily decline. The team at Bethel needed to quickly identify strategies they could implement to combat this worrying trend. They realized that in order to retain their students one of the things they had to do was gain real-time insights into what students were thinking and feeling about their college experience. To do this at scale, Bethel did something unique and brought to life their mascot.

 

Now, five months later, retention is on the rise, engagement is up and staff are already strategizing on how to keep up this positive trend. The secret to Bethel's success? A dedicated enrollment and student affairs team, a focus on right-timed conversations with students, and a sassy, fun-loving new “staff member” named Wilhelm.

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Introducing Wilhelm:


A text message bot powered by AI that nudges
students, asks them questions around their
college experience and connects them to the
right resources at the right time. Wilhelm
simultaneously informs university staff of which
students need additional outreach.

4%

Retention Lift

Bethel saw a Fall '19 to
Spring '20 retention that
was 89.8% - a 4% pt. gain
compared to last year.

97%

Student Opt-In

97% of first year students
at Bethel opted in to
receiving text messages
from their mascot.

85%

Student Satisfaction

85% of first year students
told us that they loved
speaking with Wilhelm The

Bot.

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Automated Interventions

 

With no human help or administrator programming, the AI-powered bot identified groups of struggling students and connected them to timely and target resources. Here are some of the interventions the Wilhelm bot took care of:

 

Wilhelm identified 36 students
that were scared of failing
multiple classes and connected
them to free tutors.

Wilhelm found 26 students who
did not have a close group of
friends and sent them student
engagement opportunities.

Wilhelm identified 5 students
who were severely homesick
and connected them to the
Wellness Center.

Wilhelm uncovered 21 students
who were having roommate
issues and sent them tips on
how to maintain a healthy
roommate relationship.

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Human Interventions

Bethel's lift in retention could not have been
achieved without a passionate enrollment
and student success team. While Wilhelm
detected students who were facing
challenges and connected them to helpful
resources, it simultaneously flagged students that may have benefited from additional human outreach, For example, the bot identified 32 students who were thinking of taking a break from school and flagged them for additional follow up. Bethel staff members made contact with those students and all of them re-enrolled and are current students!

But it didn't end there...

While Wilhelm engaged hundreds of
students, it simultaneously analyzed student
text messages looking for trends that can
help Bethel take long term action and
efficiently allocate resources. For example:

 

  • Bethel is now in the midst of doing a Black History Dessert Reception for Black History Month in response to a trend of Black & African American students having a lower sense of belonging.

  • Bethel is also hoping to launch a food bank for the students identified by the bot as suffering from food insecurity.

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"It's comforting having someone checking in on me, even if it is automated,
but I know it was planned by actual people who care, so it's like indirect care"

"I like that you give students a voice to explain first-hand our experience"

"It's fun interacting with an A.I."

"Whenever I see your text I get all excited knowing that I will be asked

questions about Bethel and my experience going here"

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This product itself is so uniquely different than other two retention products we've used and much more effective. It informs us of both institutional and individual student insights and risks, while automatically giving students the resources to empower themselves to succeed.

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I receive numerous marketing pitches for higher education services daily, each product I take with a grain of salt. Each service usually has the next greatest idea to boost enrollment, to greatly improve retention, or create margin to think and plan. However, few, if any, prove themselves and earn trust before commitment for their services. EdSights fulfilled every commitment they made to us. We are now ramping up our services with them because we saw firsthand their commitment to our success. We are seeing a lift in retention compared to last year and believe we will see a reverse in our fortunes as the
fall 2019 FTIC return as Sophomores. I believe credit has to be given to the awareness we received from the AI chatbot proved by EdSights, that provided real-time perceptions into the experiences of our students allowing us to address those issues in a timely and responsible manner.”

Dr. Terry Elam
VP for Enrollment
Management

Rachel Kennedy
Director of Academic

Success