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Survey Suggests Higher Ed Institutions Are Not Ready for Generative AI

In Cengage's annual digital learning pulse survey, roughly 95% of two- and four-year higher education administrators, faculty, and trustees responded that they expect generative AI tools to change their institution over the next five years. Most expected those changes to be small or moderate; just 7% to 10% predicted they will experience a "massive amount of change."

The "2023-2024 Digital Learning Pulse Survey" was conducted by Cengage and Bay View Analytics with support from four education partners in fall 2023. It queried 201 trustees at two-year schools, along with 1,126 faculty and administrators and 2,229 students from two-year and four-year schools, from more than 1,200 higher education institutions across the U.S.

When asked whether their institution is prepared for AI-related changes, however, respondents answered with a resounding "No":

  • Four-year administrators: 77%;
  • Two-year administrators: 89%;
  • Four-year faculty: 77%;
  • Two-year faculty: 84%; and
  • Two-year trustees: 64%.

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

The survey also asked about institutions' enrollment challenges and mix of course modes. While administrators' level of concern about future enrollments hasn't changed much from 2022, it is still a challenge that many hope to solve with more online and hybrid course offerings. More than a third (36%) of respondents expressed an interest in offering more courses online, and nearly half (47%) were interested in additional hybrid offerings.

Other survey findings include:

  • Across faculty, administrators, and students, all respondents agreed that the cost of education is becoming financially out of reach for students.
  • Stress continues to be cited as a top barrier for students, but nearly a third of students said they are unaware of the institutional support services available to them. Less than a quarter (22%) said they have actually used their institution's support services to help deal with stress.
  • Just 35% of students said they considered their institution's support services "very effective" for dealing with stress.
  • While 30% of students said the academic advising support at their institution is "excellent," fewer felt as positive about other support areas: health and wellness support and services (24%), career services and guidance (25%), and financial aid advising and support (24%).

Jeff Seaman, director and lead researcher at Bay View Analytics, suggested that generative AI may be able to help solve some of the problems higher education is facing, but institutions can't use it if they don't know how.

"[T]he delta between the expected impact of Gen AI in higher education and the current ability of these organizations to adapt to this new technology is significant," he added. "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."

Visit the Cengage Digital Learning Pulse Survey page to read and download the 2023 report.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.

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