Southern California Adult-Serving University Taps Artificial Intelligence to Boost Student Success

National University rolls out chatbot NUton, developed in partnership with AdmitHub, to help adult students balance the complexity of college with family, work, and personal commitments

LA JOLLA, CALIF. (May 6, 2021) — National University, a nonprofit university celebrating its rich 50-year history of serving working adult learners, educators, and veterans, today announced initial results from its successful launch of a new behaviorally intelligent chatbot that is helping to boost persistence and retention among its unique student population. Designed in partnership with AdmitHub, the conversational artificial intelligence chatbot, called NUton, offers proactive, personalized guidance to help all enrolled students navigate their way to and through college.

“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 and a developmental psychologist by training. “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 chatbot offers 24/7 communication via text message and directs students in need of additional support to targeted academic and student support resources designed to support the needs of the highly-diverse student population at National University. The average age of National students is 33 years old, and students from underrepresented communities make up about half of enrolled students.

National University and AdmitHub began their new partnership in 2019, and NUton was originally introduced to students through a grant-funded initiative with the university’s Veteran Center, focused on increasing the quality of student support for the more than 25 percent of students who are veterans or active-duty servicemembers. In its early days, the university observed that students used the platform, often after normal business hours, to access information about academic planning and advising, financial aid, health and wellness, and other campus services.

In response to the successful launch with the military-affiliated student population, the university scaled the chatbot initiative to serve its entire population in the Fall of 2020, especially in light of the challenges presented to students during COVID quarantines and modifications to on-site education. Today, approximately 20,000 students engage with the chatbot each month.

Preliminary outcomes data suggest 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. For instance, retention increased by 17 percent among students who were enrolled in classes in April and who were provided personalized engagement and communication. In addition, students have overwhelmingly embraced NUton with an engagement rate of nearly 50 percent, much higher than other means of university communication, and an average staff and faculty time savings of approximately 500 hours per month.

Even more interesting is how NUton is allowing university staff and faculty to learn more about the unique needs of online learners than ever before. “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.”

Drew Magilozzi, co-founder and CEO of AdmitHub, also applauded NUton’s unique approach. “In many cases, students are more inclined to ask a chatbot than a financial advisor about how to navigate financial aid or tap into scholarship opportunities, which enables advisors to focus on the questions and challenges that require more hands-on support,” Magliozzi said. “Through the combined efforts of caring educators, staff and advisors with support from artificial intelligence chatbots, National University is helping to address the unique needs of a highly-diverse student population—with a greater degree of empathy and precision and even at a very large scale.”

NUton was developed using artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology from pioneering develope AdmitHub. AdmitHub’s conversational chatbots are used by a growing number of colleges and nonprofit organizations to help boost enrollment, improve persistence, and advance student success. Research conducted in partnership with Georgia State University found AdmitHub’s technology reduced so-called “summer melt” by more than 20 percent among incoming students, and further studies suggest the technology can increase FAFSA completion rates and fall registration rates for returning students.

About National University

National University (NU), a veteran-founded nonprofit, has been dedicated to meeting the needs of hard-working adults by providing accessible, affordable, achievable higher education opportunities since 1971. As San Diego’s largest private nonprofit university, NU offers over 75 online and on-site programs and flexible four-week classes designed to help students reach their goals while balancing busy lives. Since its founding, the NU community has grown to over 25,000 students and 175,000 alumni around the globe, many of whom serve in helping industries such as business, education, health care, cybersecurity, and law and criminal justice. Learn more at NU.edu