National University, a California-based nonprofit that caters to adult learners, has turned to an AI-driven chatbot to help improve student retention.

The chatbot offers proactive, personalized guidance to help enrolled students navigate through college. Dubbed NUton, it was developed in partnership with AdmitHub, a chatbot developer.

“So many of the factors that influence student success are related to the complex and delicate balance among work, family, personal, and academic life, particularly for the population of working adults, parent learners, and veterans that we serve,” said Dr. David Andrews, president of National University. “This is about offering anywhere, anytime communication to help students access the wide variety of supports and services available to help students overcome everyday challenges—from financial aid and course registration to academic advising and wellness.”

The university said the chatbot is available to students 24/7 via text message and directs students that need additional support to targeted academic and student support resources.

NU’s partnership with AdmitHub, which began in 2019, was initially focused on an initiative with the school’s Veteran Center and was intended to help increase the quality of student support for the school’s veteran and active-duty student population. The school found that veteran and active-duty students frequently accessed information about campus services after normal business hours, hence the focus on a 24/7 chatbot.

After the chatbot was successful with NU’s military-affiliated student population, the school looked to scale up the chatbot to serve the entire student population. Since launching in the fall semester, the chatbot engages with 2,000 students each month.

The school reports that preliminary outcome data suggests “the chatbot is helping to boost academic success for National’s students and save university staff and faculty valuable time to focus on individual student concerns.”

The school noted that the chatbot has saved staff and faculty roughly 500 hours per month. The university saw retention increase by 17 percent among students who were enrolled in classes in April and who were provided personalized engagement and communication. Additionally, students have embraced NUton with an engagement rate of nearly 50 percent, the school says this is much higher than other means of university communication.

The school also said the chatbot is allowing university staff and faculty to gain greater insight into the needs of online learners.

“With every text message received, NUton provides a previously unavailable window into student preference, school-work-life balance, and academic challenges for which the university can now take action,” said Dr. Brandon Jouganatos, vice president for enrollment management and student success. “A major concern of adult learners remains flexibility in scheduling and commitments as their many responsibilities shift, and NUton has allowed students the ability to express enrollment preferences, reschedule courses, and otherwise create academic program flexibility with a simple text.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs