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from Ray Schroeder, Senior Fellow at UPCEA

Generative AI in College and Departmental Administration

Generative AI can be an important assistant in promoting excellence in the role of Dean, Associate Dean, Department Chair or Department Head.

In recent weeks, we have been identifying ways that we can use generative AI to help with engaging students in classes. In particular, we have been motivated by the urgent need to give learners relevant experience with AI that can be shared when applying for a job. Teaching is paramount in our AI priorities because employers are now seeking employees with experience and an understanding of how gen AI can best be used on the job.

However, there is much more to consider in integrating AI into your university operations. With the help of gen AI, your department can excel by growing enrollments; improving national exposure; doing more with lower budgets; improving policies and practices; and adjusting to shifting university emphases and initiatives.

The greatest challenge I face in encouraging higher education department, college and school leaders to begin using generative AI is the collective lack of knowledge of just what this form of AI can do. This is understandable because, in most cases, these leaders have not had any prior direct exposure to the power of the many apps that have been released. We must understand, first, that ChatGPT is not the only generative AI tool. There are a whole host of new apps that have been released, each one with somewhat different strengths and capabilities. As Bharat Sharma reports in India Times Technology, Apple is said to be building yet another competitor to ChatGPT, Google Bard, Claude 2, Perplexity, and the rest.  

We must also understand that these tools are insightful, articulate, and very powerful. The abilities to research, analyze and organize are every bit as capable as what one would expect of a graduate assistant or postdoc who had already passed the interstate bar exam and posted near perfect scores on the SAT and GRE. 

In these early days of generative AI, we find that some institutions in higher education are effectively utilizing the capabilities of these tools, but many more are not. Those who are not optimally using these awesome tools are losing competitive advantage, creativity and efficiencies that others are realizing. 

In preparing the following examples of just what these tools can accomplish in mere seconds, I went directly to two of the sources, Google Bard and Perplexity on July 20, 2023.  The following results are stimulated by the modest prompt I wrote asking for help in administering departments, schools and colleges within universities. 

With the simple preparation of a three or four sentence inquiry, Google Bard reports on three different areas that gen AI could provide immediate assistance:

  • Comparison to other programs: generative AI could be used to compare the department’s performance to other similar programs. For example, generative AI could be used to compare the department’s graduation rates, student satisfaction ratings, and research productivity to other departments in the same field.

  • Adjusting policies to promote success: generative AI could be used to analyze data on student performance and identify policies that are not working as well as they could. For example, generative AI could be used to identify policies that are leading to high dropout rates or low graduation rates. This information could then be used to adjust the policies to promote student success.

  • Recruitment: generative AI could be used to create personalized recruitment materials that are tailored to the interests of potential students. For example, if a department is recruiting students who are interested in environmental science, generative AI could be used to create a recruitment video that highlights the department’s environmental research and student opportunities.

  • Budgeting: generative AI could be used to help department chairs create and manage budgets. For example, generative AI could be used to forecast student enrollment, identify cost-saving opportunities, and reallocate resources to areas where they are most needed.

Imagine getting those reports in mere seconds, then following-up with further inquiries (prompts) for more data and recommendations. Bard will give citations for information it shows if requested in the prompt. Google has just released new improvements to Bard including support of 42 languages, text and speech input and output, Google Lens support for images and more.   

Perplexity responded to the same prompt with its usual brevity, but automatically with citations for more information. Here are some examples:

Now is the time to begin applying generative AI to the challenges you face in higher education administration. Begin with your most pressing problem and seek answers using at least two different apps.  In these early days, it is best to cross-reference responses to make sure the responses are reliable.  You can gain deep insight into your enrollment patterns and, equally important, into the enrollment patterns and practices of your competitors.  You can quickly clean up less-effective practices and identify new opportunities.  You can find a way to make your budget fit the reductions that many are facing.  With gen AI, you now have an able and ready assistant with new ideas and a huge volume of data to help you through the fall term.


This article was originally published in Inside Higher Ed’s Transforming Teaching & Learning blog. 

A man (Ray Schroeder) is dressed in a suit with a blue tie and wearing glasses.

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

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