Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

Education

CSUN Is Using A Bot To Get Freshmen To Show Up For Class

5b5bc4dbf1c4b900087ac459-eight.jpg
(Stock photo by Dick Thomas Johnson/Flickr Creative Commons)
LAist relies on your reader support, not paywalls.
Freely accessible local news is vital. Please power our reporters and help keep us independent with a donation today.

The term "summer melt" has nothing to do with global warming -- it's when incoming freshmen who have committed to a college or university don't show up in the fall.

At Cal State Northridge, the summer melt rate is 23 percent. In actual numbers, that means CSUN lost 1,523 students to the phenomenon last year.

To help fix the problem, administrators are turning to the less-than-human.

Enter CSUNny the Chatbot (pronounced "Sunny").

Support for LAist comes from

The university said it's the first in the 23-campus system to use a chatbot that is programmed to guide, nag and hold (metaphoric) hands with students on their way to that first day of class.

And students appear to trust it/him/her.

"[Students] are more willing to ask the bot questions than they are to ask humans," said Elizabeth Adams, associate vice president, undergraduate studies at CSUN. "They know that the bot isn't going to judge them for not knowing things and they don't like making phone calls."

5b5b6446f1c4b900087ac369-eight.jpg
CSU Northridge hopes to cut summer melt of incoming students with CSUNNY the chatbot. (Photo courtesy of AdmitHub)

CSUNny is programmed to ask and answer about 2,000 questions on topics ranging from financial aid deadlines to the best student parking to trivia about the 60 year-old campus.

Support for LAist comes from

"It'll joke around with them. It has a bit of a personality," Adams said. "And we're hoping that it helps students feel more like CSUN is a place that cares about them."

For now, the incoming class is having fun with CSUNny. About 98 percent of them, Adams said, chose to get texts from the bot, and between 30-60 percent of those students reply to CSUNny's texts.

The bot texts once a week, and, yes, real humans are poised to step in when more sophisticated thinking is needed on issues like taking out a loan, dropping out, depression, and suicide.

"We're mandatory reporters, so that gets escalated to the proper people, either the student's counselor or, at worst, the police, immediately," said Andrew Magliozzi, CEO of AdmitHub, the company that created the bot.

AdmitHub modeled CSUNny after a so-called virtual assistant or mascot bot that is credited with helping cut the summer melt rate at Georgia State University by 22 percent.

Support for LAist comes from

News happens every day. Here at LAist, our goal is to cover the stories that matter to you and the community you live in. Now that we're part of KPCC, those stories (including this one you're on right now!) are made possible by generous people like you. Independent, local journalism isn't cheap, but with your support we can keep delivering it. Donate now.