Online: Trending Now

Unique biweekly insights and news review
from Ray Schroeder, Senior Fellow at UPCEA

Preparing for Our New AI Workforce in Higher Education

The recent rapid development of Generative AI (GenAI) has opened the possibility of far more efficient and cost-effective use of technology to assume the roles that are currently performed by humans.

The World Economic Forum has estimated that artificial intelligence will replace some 85 million jobs by 2025. That’s only eight months away! A study by Goldman Sachs projects that over the longer term, artificial intelligence (AI) could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs. It could replace a quarter of work tasks in the US and Europe. However, those also mean new jobs and a productivity boom. And it could eventually increase the total annual value of goods and services produced globally by 7%. The report predicts two-thirds of jobs in the U.S. and Europe “are exposed to some degree of AI automation,” and approximately one quarter of all jobs could be performed by AI entirely.

In one of the first in-depth studies of the impact of GenAI on enterprise workers Harvard joined MIT and Penn’s Wharton School in investigating the use of generative AI among hundreds of consultants working for the respected Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The findings showed a complete a range of tasks were accomplished more often, more quickly, and at a higher quality than those who did not use AI. Overall, the study reported a 40-percent increase in productivity among the enterprise workers.

In another corporate example, just one month after taking its OpenAI-powered virtual assistant global, the Swedish buy-now, pay-later company, Klarna, released results showing the ability to handle customer communications, make shoppers happier, and even increase profits. Their app-based AI chatbot provided two-thirds of all customer service chats, some 2.3 million conversations so far. Customer satisfaction ratings were reported at the same level as human agents. Announcing a partnership with OpenAI early last year, Klarna said it was one of the first companies to integrate the ChatGPT technology into a plug-in for shopping. The company estimates that the chatbot could help improve its profits by $40 million in 2024 alone.

The CEO of OpenAI has projected that nearly all dedicated marketing jobs will be performed by AI in the future. Sam Altman says that AI will do “95% of what marketers use agencies, strategists, and creative professionals for today.” And, he says AGI will be a reality in “5 years, give or take, maybe slightly longer.”

What, then, can we expect in higher education? Given the mounting pressure from states and consumers to make higher ed more affordable, we certainly can anticipate that GenAI will be explored as an option across the university. In closely watching this field over the past two years, my take is that we will see a steady, incremental reduction in force at colleges and universities as GenAI adapts to more efficiently and effectively performing professional jobs. Here is a beginning list of some of the jobs that may be first in line for automation through GenAI:

  • Marketing and Campus Relations Positions – will require only minimal staffing/supervision as per Sam Altman’s prediction.
  • Student recruitment and admissions advisors will be replaced in most cases by Chatbots. As with the Klarna example above, these bots will be able to give comprehensive and consistent counsel to students. A bonus will be that they will be fluent and skilled in writing, reading, speaking and comprehending foreign languages of students for whom English is not their first language.
  • The Division of Finance and Administration – accountancy positions and middle management positions are projected to be replaced by AI with only minimal human supervision.
  • Administrative Assistants – reduction in staff with only minimal supervision of AI assistants at all administrative levels.
  • Selected librarian client and operations duties will be able to be performed effectively and efficiently by Chatbots.
  • Faculty for Introductory and Lower Division Classes to be largely replaced by artificial instructors overseen by experienced “master faculty” who will teach one section and handle unique cases that arise among a dozen or more sections of the same class with a Chatbot as the instructor.
  • Student advising and tutoring, note that the two-sigma difference originally posited by Benjamin Bloom in research on student learning performance indicated that if students had an individual tutor, their class performance would improve by two standard deviations. Now that impact is being reported by Salman Khan in using the OpenAI-powered tutor, Khanmigo.

This is just a beginning list of areas where we may find AI replacing humans at colleges and universities in the next couple of years. How does one prepare for these changes? How do supervisors prepare their vulnerable staff members for such changes?

Earlier this year, I inquired of Gemini pro, the Google-operated GenAI application, about some of the considerations regarding terminations, layoffs, retraining, upskilling and related actions in higher education due to GenAI replacement of humans. Gemini replied to the initial prompt:

Here’s a list of considerations for leaders facing the difficult choice of layoffs vs. retraining when adopting generative AI technologies. It’s important to note that there’s no single right answer, and the best decision will depend on the specific circumstances of your business:

    1. Financial Considerations
      1. Layoff costs vs. retraining costs: Calculate the long-term financial implications of both layoffs (severance packages, potential loss of morale and productivity) and retraining (training programs, lost productivity during training).
      2. Potential ROI of retraining: Assess the potential long-term gains from investing in existing employees. Would a retrained workforce yield better productivity and quality improvements than hiring new talent?
      3. Cost of lost knowledge: Consider the value of experienced employees and the cost of lost organizational and process knowledge during layoffs.

Gemini went on to discuss in detail “ethical considerations, human resource & talent management, company culture & morale, operational agility & long-term strategy” and more. I was particularly impressed with the attention paid to ethical, equity and human impact concerns.

It is important to realize that these changes are upon us. Well-prepared institutions will have considered the challenges and opportunities by the end of this academic year. They will have conducted copious public forums and discussions at the department, college, division and institution-wide levels. A host of counseling services and opportunities for upskilling, reskilling and career-change support will be offered to faculty and staff. The ramifications for personal careers, institutional stability, and student support are enormous. The opportunities for enhancing quality and saving expenditures are equally enormous. Will your institution be among the leaders that will shape the future of higher education, or will it fall behind in service, quality and reputation?


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.

Other UPCEA Updates + Blogs

Who’s in the Driver’s Seat?

The saying “who’s in the driver’s seat” commonly refers to driving a car and the decision of whether one person should lead or if input is necessary. Similarly, the term “backseat driver” describes someone not in control attempting to influence or take charge. Both phrases suggest notions of control and ego. One could argue that…

Read More

Take Action on Proposed State Authorization Reciprocity Regulations | Policy Matters (April 2024)

Major Updates   Urgent: Take Action on Proposed State Authorization Reciprocity Regulations The Department of Education is set to introduce new regulations that could significantly alter state authorization reciprocity agreements, critically affecting online education and our students’ futures. Following the lack of consensus in recent negotiated rulemaking sessions, the forthcoming rules are expected to impose…

Read More

Bringing an Insider-Outsider Perspective to UPCEA’s Members

Shortly after pivoting twelve years ago from a deanship to a faculty position, I realized the only job better than being a dean was now being able to help other university leaders. A highlight of this career change has been visiting campuses as part of a consulting or accreditation team and conducting numerous solo consulting…

Read More

How to Market Your Higher Education Programs to Prospective Students

As the college admissions landscape continues undergoing seismic shifts, higher education administrators and marketing teams must be able to come up with innovative, future-forward marketing strategies designed to increase interest, boost admission rates, and target student populations that may not otherwise have considered attending college. By developing a marketing strategy for student recruitment, you can promote your higher…

Read More

UPCEA Recognizes the 2024 Summit for Online Leadership and Administration + Roundtable and Distance Teaching & Learning Conference Award Recipients

7 Individuals Receive Honors WASHINGTON (April 18, 2024) – UPCEA, the online and professional education association, is pleased to recognize the recipients of this year’s online and distance education awards.  Award recipients will be honored at the 2024 Summit for Online Leadership and Administration + Roundtable (SOLA+R) and Distance Teaching & Learning Conference (DT&L), July…

Read More

UPCEA Announces 2024-2025 Leadership Teams for Council for Chief Online Learning Officers and Council for Credential Innovation

UPCEA, the online and professional education association, announced today the 2024-2025 leadership teams for the Council for Chief Online Learning Officers and Council for Credential Innovation. The association extends its gratitude to the 37 member volunteers serving in leadership roles for these two bodies.  The Council for Chief Online Learning Officers (C-COLO) and its members…

Read More

Whether you need benchmarking studies, or market research for a new program, UPCEA Consulting is the right choice.

We know you. We know the challenges you face and we have the solutions you need. We speak your language and have been serving leaders like you for more than 100 years. UPCEA consultants are current or former continuing and online higher education professionals who are experts in the industry—put our expertise to work for you.

UPCEA is dedicated to advancing quality online learning at the institutional level. UPCEA is uniquely focused on excellence at the highest levels – leadership, administration, strategy – applying a macro lens to the online teaching and learning enterprise. Its engaged members include the stewards of online learning at most of the leading universities in the nation.

We offers a variety of custom research options through a variable pricing model.

Click here to learn more.

The Nation's Top Universities Choose UPCEA Consulting

Informed decisions. Ideas that work. The data you need. Trusted by the top universities in the nation.