Apr. 2023 - Detecting AI, Declining Enrollment Trends, and Demand for Systemic Change

Dr. Wendy Kilgore |
April 27, 2023
  • Research
  • AACRAO Research Insights
  • AACRAO Research Resources
  • AI
  • Community Colleges
  • Enrollment Trends
  • Systemic Change


AACRAO Research Calendar for 2023

First, I want to reiterate my thanks to everyone who takes the time to respond to the surveys supporting our research. In recognition of the recent extraordinary efforts to respond to three surveys since January, we are pausing the 60-Second Surveys until October. The survey calendar for the remainder of the year is as follows:

  • AACRAO/UPCEA research into the relationship between the academic registrar unit and the professional and continuing education unit (currently deployed through May 11)
  • Registrar and the curriculum management governance survey to help the authors update the book on curriculum management (June 28 through July 21)
  • Chief Enrollment Officer Career profile survey 2023 (September 12 through 29 - tentative)
  • 60-Second Survey of a to-be-determined topic (October 2 - 5)

Detecting and Addressing the Use of Generative AI Among Current and Prospective College Students

With the release of ChatGPT in November 2022, and the availability of other AI technologies capable of writing college-level responses to well-written prompts, 22% of recently surveyed college students admitted to using this technology to help them complete assignments or exams. Turnitin will soon release an AI writing detection tool that they say has a 98% confidence rate in detecting AI writing. Others have started or recently completed benchmarking and discussing the impact of generative AI on higher education, including Tyton Partners and The Times Higher Education, among others.

It occurred to me that admissions essays can be written by an AI. To test that assumption, I entered the following single prompt into ChatGPT: “Write a college admission essay about grit.” Below is what I received in response, word for word.

"Dear Admissions Committee,

I am writing this college admission essay to highlight a trait that I believe defines me and sets me apart from my peers. This trait is grit, which has been a driving force in my academic and personal achievements.

Grit can be defined as a combination of passion and perseverance towards long-term goals. Growing up, I faced numerous challenges that tested my resolve, from financial difficulties to personal setbacks. Despite these obstacles, I always remained committed to my dreams and worked tirelessly to achieve them.

One instance where my grit was put to the test was during my sophomore year of high school. I had always been passionate about science and had set my sights on pursuing a degree in biomedical engineering. However, I struggled in my physics class and received a low grade on my midterm exam. I could have easily given up and chosen an easier path, but I refused to let this setback define me. I sought extra help from my teacher and classmates, spent countless hours studying, and ultimately earned an A in the class.

My perseverance in this situation and in other aspects of my life has taught me valuable lessons about the importance of hard work and resilience. It has also shown me that setbacks and failures are opportunities for growth and learning.

In addition to academic challenges, I have also demonstrated grit in my extracurricular pursuits. I have been a member of my school's debate team for three years, and have competed at both the regional and national level. The grueling preparation and intense competition have required me to push myself to my limits and maintain my motivation in the face of adversity.

My passion for debate has also instilled in me a sense of empathy and open-mindedness, which I believe will serve me well in college and beyond. It has taught me to listen to and consider different perspectives, and to be comfortable with ambiguity and complexity.

In conclusion, I believe that my grit is a defining characteristic that will enable me to succeed in college and beyond. It has taught me to be resilient, hardworking, and open-minded, and has prepared me to face the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Thank you for considering my application.

[Your Name]"

To be honest, this technology concerns me on many fronts. The least of which is academic integrity. Over 30,000 signatures from academicians, AI scientists, and others have been received for this open letter call to pause AI experiments for six months.

AACRAO Research Update

Serving Adult Learners

Adult-Learners AACRAO aims to understand more completely the current opportunities and challenges facing higher education in supporting the success of undergraduate-adult learners. A survey on undergraduate-serving institutions in the United States recently closed. For the purpose of the survey, the following definition was used for undergraduate-adult learners:

  • Undergraduate-adult learners: Usually at least 25 years old, may have delayed entering college after high school, usually employed, often has a family to support, more often looking to enhance or switch careers, may have stopped out before earning a first degree, and has more experience in a career or the military than traditional students.

Early insights from the data include the following:

  • About a third of the 219 institutions in the sample have an institution-wide definition for an undergraduate-adult learner.
  • From the respondents' perspectives, the main challenges faced by undergraduate-adult learners include:
    • financial
    • balancing work and family
    • balancing work and college
    • a lack of flexibility with their time
  • More than half of the institutions in this survey have deployed opportunities or strategies in the last two academic years to attract and retain undergraduate-adult learners. The chart below details those efforts.

Future Research

Curriculum Management Stakeholder Engagement
We are in the process of updating the book 2016 Curriculum Management and the Role of the Registrar. Part of this process will include a survey developed by two authors. This survey will focus on how shared governance supports curriculum-management processes and influences policy. The survey will likely deploy in late June.

Chief Enrollment Management Officer Career Profile Survey (CEMO), 2023
It has been three years since the last CEMO report. We are working on reviewing and possibly revising the survey for deployment in early Fall.

Current Higher Education Research and Related Topics

37% Decline in Community College Students Since 2010

An article in the Hechinger Report documents the decline in community college enrollment and examines some potential root causes. The article cites factors such as low funding, poor advising, and bureaucratic culture. Some key points include:

  • While the pandemic exacerbated the drop in enrollment, it started before 2020.
  • Dual-enrollment students have helped keep enrollment numbers up, but these courses often cost colleges more than they generate.
  • About 17% of community college students now transfer to a bachelor's degree program.
  • Within a year, nearly half of the students drop out of the community college where they began their education. Only 40% finish within six years.

Transfer Enrollments Continue to Fall

A new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows a continued drop in transfer enrollments from 2020 and 2022. Transfers to 4-year institutions dropped by over 14% during that period. Key points in the report include:

  • The pace of the decline showed signs of slowing in 2022.
  • Community college students wishing to transfer into baccalaureate degree programs appear to have increasing trouble transferring.
  • Students from the top 20% of the U.S.-household income distribution dominate transfer pathways to highly selective public flagship and private institutions.
  • Transfer increased among students returning from a stop-out (+5.4% over Fall 2021).
  • Women fared worse in transfer enrollment overall, especially among continuing transfers.
Source: Transfer and Progress Fall 2022, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Systemic Change Needed to Address Racism in STEM Education

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have released a report (requires login) that shows some improvement in minority representation but calls for systemic change to address the problem further; this is an extensive 359-page report. A few key points include:

  • 40% of Black students switch out of STEM majors before earning their degree.
  • Minority representation is much lower at higher levels of advancement in STEM fields.
  • The report calls for a systemic, multitiered approach to addressing the issue.

Report Explores Barriers Facing Black Learners

The "A Stronger Nation" report from the Lumina Foundation has produced new data on completion rates for Black learners. One finding is 34% of Black Americans have a degree, compared to 46% of the entire population. The report included many interactive charts and broke down data by state.

Dual Enrollment May Present Financial Challenges for Community Colleges

A new working paper by the Community College Research Center examines the fiscal realities of offering dual-enrollment courses. Many colleges receive less funding for dual-enrollment courses. The paper also includes suggestions for improving efficiency, with case studies as illustrations.

Survey Examines Faculty Beliefs About Free Expression and Academic Freedom

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) recently conducted a survey of 1,491 college faculty to gauge their attitudes toward academic freedom and free expression. A majority of faculty surveyed worried about losing their job due to the prospect of having something they said misrepresented. Other key points include:

  • 52% felt speech should only be restricted "where words are certain to incite physical violence."
  • Compared to students, nearly twice as many faculty would support controversial speakers on campus.
  • 11% of faculty reported being disciplined or threatened with discipline because of their teaching.
  • 34% of respondents said they often feel they cannot express their opinions on some subjects because of how students, colleagues, or their administration will respond.

Recent Studies Examine Perceptions of Microcredentials

With the rapid growth of alternative credentials, three recent studies have been published focusing on them. The studies include:

  • A report from EdResearcher titled "Benefits and Costs of Participation in MOOC-Based Alternative Credentials: MicroMasters and Specializations."
    • This report's basis is from survey data of over 25,000 learners in Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)-based credential programs and focuses on the benefits of these programs versus the costs. Key findings include:
      • Less than 25% of learners were students in a conventional degree program.
      • Most were employed full-time, with an additional 10% identifying as business owners.
      • Only 27% of respondents anticipated learning something new when beginning, but 94% of those who completed reported this benefit.
      • 41% of learners anticipated that the program would improve their job performance.
      • Approximately 66% of completers paid course fees themselves.
      • Most completers used leisure time to complete their coursework.
  • A study from IBM titled "IBM Global Skills and Education Study."
    • This study looked at barriers to STEM careers, with key points including:
      • 47% of respondents are familiar with digital- credential programs. 60% of respondents worry about the costs of digital credentials.
      • 86% of those who earned a digital credential believe it helped them achieve career goals.
      • 75% of all respondents agree digital credentials are a good way to supplement traditional education.
      • At least 90% are confident they can develop or add new skills from an online program.
  • A report from the Colleges Education and University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) titled "The Effect of Employer Understanding and Engagement on Non-Degree Credentials."
    • This study examined employer perceptions of the value of non-degree credentials in the workplace. Key findings included:
      • Employer awareness of non-degree credentials is relatively low.
      • Some employers stated they were unsure about the educational quality of these credentials.
      • Employers want to be engaged with institutions offering these credentials, including participating in curriculum development.

Undergraduate Degree Completion Drops for the First Time in 10 Years

New data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reveals that students earning undergraduate degrees fell by 1.6% last year, reversing nearly a decade of steady growth. The report stated that an unprecedented 1-year loss in first-time degree earners drove the decline. Key points include:

  • An unprecedented 1-year loss of 50,700 first-time graduates (-1.9% over the previous year) caused the decline.
  • The pandemic exacerbated trends that have affected higher education for many years.
  • The steepest decline in completion across degree types was among older or adult learners, suggesting the labor market influences students' decisions to forgo or abandon degree programs.

Student Survey Finds Faculty Teaching Style Can Impede Student Success

The most recent Student Voice Survey found overly difficult materials or examinations are a major problem for one in every two students. Teaching styles that do not match how students learn also negatively affect their academic success.

  • School-life balance is the third-most difficult challenge for students overall, and it is a greater worry for students who receive financial assistance than those who do not.
  • Uncertain expectations are a worry for four out of every ten students, especially among arts and humanities majors.
  • Four out of every ten students mention mental health issues as a barrier to success. The rate is considerably higher for LGBTQIA+ students and those with learning disabilities.
  • Strict attendance or involvement requirements, unrealistic timelines, and inaccessible course materials are cited as barriers to success by one in every four students.

Thoughts? Contact AACRAO Research.

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