Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo. Photo by Prince Williams/Wireimage

ATLANTA — Georgia State University is leveraging AI-powered chatbots and predictive data analytics to create a new student-advising system that has significantly boosted graduation rates.

Why it matters: It's well known that personalized, timely attention plays a major role in graduation rates at all grade levels. But the students who most need that support are often the least likely to get it.

"What's insidious about it is that it happens in silence, one by one, and we didn't always know why. For four generations, the model has been that navigating college is on the student to figure out. If you do, you'll do fine. If you don't, you'll slip through the cracks."
— Tim Renick, senior vice president of student success at Georgia State University

Zooming in: A majority of students at GSU, a public university of about 54,000 based in downtown Atlanta, are from groups that have higher than average drop-out rates: 60% are nonwhite, 30% are first-generation college students and nearly 60% receive support from Pell Grants.

  • In 2011, about 6,000 students dropped out every year.
  • After data analysis of 10 years of students records, the university identified 800 risk factors and overhauled its student advising system to spot them early and respond in real time.

How it works: Students can text questions — like: "What if I don't have my immunization records?" or "What is a subsidized student loan?" — to GSU's chatbot. AI then pulls the right answer out of a database or sends it to staff to answer.

  • The chatbot, named "Pounce" after the mascot, fielded more than 200,000 questions within 3 months of its 2015 launch.
  • About 80% of students are talking to the chatbot on a regular basis, with students sending 70-80 queries on average.
  • First-generation college students disproportionately benefit from the chatbot, Renick noted, likely because they are often more reluctant to ask questions in person, and many work on top of taking classes. That explains why a large portion of questions come in around 1 am.

GSU quadrupled the number of academic advisors on staff to respond to the flood of student queries and more closely track their progression. The student-advisor ratio, which was 800 to 1 before launching the chatbot, is now 300 to 1.

  • An algorithm identifies a "predicted risk level" for each student, based on factors like their major, class schedule, grades and faculty feedback.
  • If a student is at risk of falling behind or dropping out, advisors can reach out with personalized emails, text messages or in-person meetings.
  • "The easiest way to have an impact is with B to C students who fly under the radar," said Allison Calhoun-Brown, who oversees GSU's advisor center. "We can strategically target them at the first sign they are going off track."
  • For eligible students who are close to graduation but can't enroll in senior year classes due to an unpaid tuition bill, GSU also gives "retention grants" to ensure they can continue. GSU awards about 3,000 grants annually — the average of which is about $900.

The impact: GSU has narrowed the graduation gap between white, affluent students and those from less-privileged backgrounds. Its overall 6-year graduation rate (now 54%) rose 23% over the past 15 years.

  • For low-income, African American and Hispanic students, the graduation rates shot up by over 30%, bringing these groups in line with — and even above, in some cases — the rest of the student body for 5 consecutive years.

The bottom line: It's also been a financial boon — every percentage point added to the school's graduation is worth about $3 million in additional revenue.

  • "Not only is it the moral thing to do, it's the prudent thing to do," Renick said.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Uganda's election: Museveni declared winner, Wine claims fraud

Wine rejected the official results of the election. Photo: Sumy Sadruni/AFP via Getty

Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a sixth presidential term on Saturday, with official results giving him 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, the singer-turned-opposition leader.

Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.

Off the Rails

Episode 1: A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 1: Trump’s refusal to believe the election results was premeditated. He had heard about the “red mirage” — the likelihood that early vote counts would tip more Republican than the final tallies — and he decided to exploit it.

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”