Research illustrates that while GenAI could ease ongoing challenges in higher ed, just 1 in 5 say their school is ready.

Higher ed is unprepared for GenAI’s impact


Research illustrates that while GenAI could ease ongoing challenges in education, just 1 in 5 say their school is ready

Key points:

While three-quarters of higher-education trustees (83 percent), faculty (81 percent) and administrators (76 percent) agree that generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) will noticeably change their institutions in the next five years, community college trustees are more optimistic than their community college counterparts, with (37 percent) saying their organization is prepared for the change coming compared to just 16 percent of faculty and 11 percent of administrator respondents.

Those findings are from the 2023-2024 Digital Learning Pulse Survey conducted by Cengage and Bay View Analytics with support from the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE), College Pulse and the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) to understand the attitudes and concerns of higher education instructors and leadership.

Education ranks among the top five industries expected to see a productivity boost from GenAI, with the sector forecast to see a revenue increase of as much as 4 percent. From answer bots and virtual tutors to gamified simulations in virtual reality for hands-on immersive learning, GenAI could be the remedy to ongoing challenges from teacher shortages and crowded classrooms to democratizing access to higher education through lower-cost options.

“While GenAI holds exciting potential, this survey signals that higher education has more work to do before it can fully realize its benefits,” said Kimberly Russell, vice president of research for Cengage. “Institutions and educational technology providers need to evaluate how to integrate GenAI equitably in a manner that can enrich human instruction and enable more personalized, captivating learning experiences that expand access and success for all students.” 

In addition to a perceived lack of readiness to embrace GenAI in physical and virtual classrooms, the survey found many schools continue to seek creative solutions to declining enrollment, with more than a third (36 percent) of all administrators expressing an interest in offering more courses online and nearly half (47 percent) interested in additional hybrid offerings.

“This year’s Digital Learning Pulse Survey suggests that GenAI could help solve some of the ongoing challenges faced by higher education,” said Dr. Jeff Seaman, lead researcher and director of Bay View Analytics, which fielded the survey. “However, the delta between the expected impact of GenAI in higher education and the current ability of these organizations to adapt to this new technology is significant. With so few respondents feeling prepared to adopt artificial intelligence, institutions will need to invest substantial time, effort and resources if they are to remain competitive as this technology becomes mainstream.”

Other survey findings include:

  • Courses largely make the grade: Most students at both two- and four-year institutions give their courses a grade of A (48 percent) or B (39 percent). Overall, the number of students giving their courses A grades has trended upward, increasing 20 percent since 2020. Students at two-year institutions who graded their courses highly trended downward during that same time, dropping approximately 10 percent.
  • Rising costs weigh heavily: The rising cost of education is a concern across the board with more than a third of each respondent group – 41 percent of administrators, 46 percent of faculty, 35 percent of trustees and 33 percent of students – strongly agreeing that the price of a two- or four-year program is becoming out of reach.
  • The stress is real: Stress dominates the list of concerns of students, faculty and administrators alike. For students, however, nearly one in three (30 percent) said they were unaware of support services available to them through their school, and fewer than 1 in 4 (22 percent) report having used such services. The most common reason for not using these services was students “did not think they could help my personal situation” (34 percent), followed by being uncomfortable sharing personal information (29 percent).
  • Academic advisors offer value: Most students find value in the academic advisory services provided by their institution, with more respondents from two-year institutions (34 percent) describing their academic counseling as “excellent,” compared to those from four-year institutions (25 percent). Students felt less positive about other services offered, including financial services (24 percent), and health and wellbeing services (24 percent).

“GenAI offers promise for institutions of higher learning – especially two-year colleges – to expand their course offerings in modern, innovative ways,” said Jee Hang Lee, president and CEO of ACCT, a national organization of community college leaders that helped organize the survey. “We must, however, ensure equitable access and deliberate implementation so all students can benefit from this emerging technology in an inclusive environment that empowers their learning.”

The 2023-2024 Digital Learning Pulse Survey included partners ACCT, ACUE, College Pulse and USDLA.

This press release originally appeared online.

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