The Role of AI in University Admissions: Balancing Technology and Human Touch with Dr. Paul Marthers

The Role of AI in University Admissions: Balancing Technology and Human Touch with Dr. Paul Marthers
Shelby Moquin
July 8, 2024
Enrollment Management

About the Blog

In this insightful episode of Mastering The Next, host Ray Lutzky is joined by Dr. Paul Marthers, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at Emory University. Together, they explore the evolving role of artificial intelligence (AI) in university admissions and the critical balance between leveraging technology and maintaining the human element in enrollment management.

The Future of Enrollment Management in the Age of AI

Dr. Paul Marthers opens the discussion by addressing the rapid emergence of new technologies in enrollment management. He emphasizes the importance of cautious and informed adoption, noting that while AI holds immense potential, its application in the field is still in its infancy. Drawing parallels to the hype cycle of online learning technologies, he warns against jumping on the AI bandwagon without thoroughly understanding its implications and long-term impacts.

Marthers highlights the necessity of continuously assessing the return on investment (ROI) of new technologies. He suggests that as AI tools evolve, they may eventually converge into indispensable resources, much like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems did in the past. For now, however, he advocates for a balanced approach that involves careful monitoring and strategic deployment of AI.

Ethical Challenges and the Importance of Privacy

As the conversation delves deeper into the ethical dimensions of AI in admissions, Dr. Marthers identifies several concerns. Privacy issues and the energy-intensive nature of machine learning are among the foremost considerations. He underscores the need for enrollment managers to grapple with these ethical dilemmas, particularly as they pertain to the longevity and security of digitized information.

Marthers also raises critical questions about the role of AI in evaluating applicants. He stresses the importance of transparency in how AI tools are used and the need for institutions to articulate clearly whether a human or an AI is assessing applications. This transparency is crucial in maintaining public trust and ensuring that the use of AI does not undermine the integrity of the admissions process.

Maintaining the Human Touch in Student Engagement

Despite the rise of AI, Marthers argues that the human touch remains vital in student engagement. He describes Emory University's careful implementation of AI tools, such as chatbots, to handle repetitive inquiries while ensuring that more complex questions are addressed by human staff. This approach aims to enhance efficiency without sacrificing the personal interaction that prospective students and their families value.

Marthers highlights the importance of tailoring the use of AI to the institution's size and brand. For smaller, bespoke institutions, maintaining high-touch interactions is essential, whereas larger universities may benefit from AI-driven efficiencies. Ultimately, he advocates for a strategic balance that aligns with the institution's values and the expectations of its audience.

The Impact of AI on Accessibility, Diversity, and Equity

The discussion also touches on the potential impact of AI on accessibility, diversity, and equity in admissions. Marthers points out that AI tools must be carefully evaluated to ensure they do not inadvertently perpetuate biases or inequities. He emphasizes the importance of human oversight in the admissions process, particularly in cases where nuanced judgments are required.

Marthers shares insights from a lecture by Joy Buolamwini of the MIT Media Lab, which highlighted the challenges of bias in facial recognition technology. He suggests that institutions, especially those with a liberal arts focus or strong human performance programs, may need to be more cautious in their adoption of AI, ensuring that they do not compromise the personalized experiences that define their educational offerings.

Preparing for the Future of AI in Higher Education

Looking ahead, Dr. Marthers advises enrollment managers to thoughtfully consider the adoption of AI technologies. He recommends engaging a broad range of stakeholders, including staff, students, and external influencers, in the decision-making process. This inclusive approach ensures that all perspectives are considered, and potential unintended consequences are anticipated.

Marthers predicts that AI will continue to make inroads in areas like financial aid optimization, where data-driven tools have long been utilized. However, he cautions against adopting AI purely for cost-saving purposes, advocating instead for a strategic approach that aligns with the institution's mission and values.

Balancing Technological Tools and Human Judgment

In conclusion, Dr. Marthers envisions a future where AI plays a significant role in managing high-volume applications at large institutions, while smaller, high-touch institutions continue to prioritize human interactions. He emphasizes the importance of aligning AI adoption with the institution's brand and ensuring that the use of technology enhances rather than detracts from the student experience.

As institutions navigate this evolving landscape, Marthers encourages ongoing dialogue about the role of AI and the preservation of the human touch in enrollment management. By thoughtfully integrating AI while maintaining a commitment to ethical considerations and personal engagement, universities can leverage technology to enhance their admissions processes and better serve their prospective students.

Key Takeaways:
  • Balanced Approach: Adoption of AI in enrollment management should be cautious and strategic, focusing on understanding long-term impacts.
  • Ethical Considerations: Addressing privacy issues, energy use, and transparency in AI's role in evaluating applicants is crucial.
  • Human Touch: Maintaining personal interactions, especially for complex inquiries, is essential to preserving the quality of student engagement.
  • Equity and Accessibility: AI tools must be carefully evaluated to avoid perpetuating biases and inequities in the admissions process.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Involving a broad range of stakeholders in decision-making ensures comprehensive consideration of potential impacts.

To explore these insights in greater depth and hear more about the future of AI in university admissions, listen to the full episode of Mastering The Next on the Enrollify Podcast Network. Gain valuable perspectives from Dr. Paul Marthers and discover how Emory University is navigating the intersection of technology and human touch in enrollment management.

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