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Artificial Intelligence at Private Colleges and Universities: Insights from the Latest HESS-Doctums Study

A joint effort between HESS and Doctums.

Wesley Matthews, president of Doctums, shares the details and valuable insights from a joint HESS and Doctums study on the current state, opportunities, and challenges of Artificial Intelligence (AI) adoption in higher education. 

The HESS Consortium (Higher Education Systems & Services Consortium) is a collaborative network of higher education institutions dedicated to advancing innovative solutions and best practices in higher education management. Members of the consortium work together to share resources, collaborate on initiatives, and increase efficiency and effectiveness across their institutions. Through this collaborative approach, the HESS Consortium aims to enhance the overall quality and impact of higher education.

The study was open to all HESS member institutions and received a high level of participation. Respondents were primarily CIOs or CTOs who were asked to describe their perceptions of various aspects of AI at their institutions, as these individuals sit at the intersection of information and technology and are thoroughly familiar with how technology is deployed and adopted at their respective institutions.

The study’s key findings center on thought leadership, expertise, and emerging technologies in education, with a deep focus on the rapid adoption of AI and its various components, such as natural language processing, machine learning, and predictive analytics. As we delve into the specifics, overarching findings show that faculty, staff, and students have mixed attitudes regarding the application of AI, with concerns varying from academic integrity to enthusiasm regarding better efficiency and student support services.

Main Takeaways

AI Awareness and Institutional Support for AI Initiatives

AI adoption is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, with tools like Chat GPT gaining a million users in just five days. The rapid adoption can be attributed to its accessibility, ease of use, and real-world applications. Despite the excitement and interest, there are also concerns, particularly among faculty, regarding AI replacing core functions in teaching and learning, as well as questions about student use and academic integrity. Staff are excited for the efficiency AI can bring to their work, and students are eager to responsibly explore AI's potential. However, the general understanding of the scope of AI and its uses varies, with many people unaware that AI comprises a range of technologies beyond generative AI, such as natural language processing, machine learning, predictive analytics, rule-based systems, speech recognition, RPA, and computer vision. These components can be combined to create innovative solutions across sectors.

Applications of AI on Campus

AI has a wide range of applications on campus, spanning from back-office operations to enhancing the user experience with better interfaces. Vendors are increasingly incorporating AI into their solutions, offering various off-the-shelf applications such as chatbots. These AI-based tools can be used for content and curriculum generation in learning management systems (LMS), pre-building workflows in workflow tools, and enabling natural language queries in reporting tools. AI is also enhancing student-facing administrative processes in customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Institutions can adopt AI through custom applications developed through internal IT capabilities or by combining off-the-shelf and custom solutions for richer experiences.

Institutional Readiness for AI

When assessing institutional readiness for AI adoption, it's clear that there is a gap in expertise among faculty and staff, with only 6% having strong AI skills. While senior leadership expresses an interest in supporting AI initiatives, it is primarily at a conceptual level rather than being directed toward specific applications. Currently, AI is predominantly used in customer relationship management (CRM) and learning management systems (LMS), with some uncertainty among respondents about its prevalence and utilization on campus.

Looking ahead, respondents recognize the potential of AI for student retention and support services (84%), recruiting and admissions (60%), and library information services (40%). However, there's a lack of structured approaches to AI adoption, with 75% of institutions yet to create a framework for AI initiatives. It's crucial for institutions to develop a coordinated approach that spans multiple departments to ensure the effective and purposeful integration of AI on campus.

Approach and Governance of AI Initiatives

AI legislation and regulation are on the horizon, with proposals such as The EU Artificial Intelligence Act and the White House's AI Bill of Rights and executive orders. Current regulations, like GDPR in the EU, require universities to ensure data privacy and security when using AI applications. Despite the lack of specific regulations, it's crucial for institutions to understand and prepare for the potential impacts of AI legislation.

Currently, there are two main approaches to AI regulation: a rights-based approach, focusing on individual consumer rights regarding their information, and a risk-based framework, identifying specific risks that need to be safeguarded against. Both approaches are likely to mandate disclosures, explanations, and actions related to AI usage.

While regulation is still evolving and not yet well defined, institutions should start preparing to integrate AI into their governance processes. This includes ensuring alignment with institutional goals, preventing bias in AI-generated outcomes, and safeguarding against ethical breaches and data misuse. By integrating AI into governance processes, institutions can navigate emerging technologies effectively and preempt regulatory requirements.

The Importance of AI Literacy in Higher Education

AI literacy is becoming increasingly important in higher education, as AI is being used in a wide range of systems and interactions. It's not just a computer science concept; AI literacy is becoming a common skill expected in the future workforce. This literacy doesn't imply becoming an expert but rather being competent and responsible with the use of AI. Just as proficiency in word processing or spreadsheets was once required, AI competency will soon be essential for many, if not all, professionals.

With that in mind, the survey revealed a startling fact: nearly 90% of institutions have not formally integrated AI into their curriculum. While some specialized courses may cover AI, it's not part of the broader curriculum. In fact, the data revealed that only 11% of institutions have plans to introduce AI formally into their curriculum.

To bridge this gap, institutions can begin focusing on how AI can be ethically used or integrated in the classroom. From providing guidelines for faculty on AI use, language for syllabi outlining the ethical use of AI, mechanisms for monitoring AI use, and education on AI literacy for both faculty and students, institutions can prepare their students for a future where AI literacy is a crucial skill.


The rapid advancement of AI technologies presents both exciting opportunities and challenges for higher education institutions. It is clear that AI is not just a passing trend but a transformative force that will deeply impact how institutions operate and how students learn. 

To harness the full potential of AI while mitigating risks, institutions must take proactive steps to integrate AI responsibly into their settings. The following are six recommendations we think respond to the opportunities and concerns raised by our findings:

  1. Developing an AI literacy program is essential to ensure that faculty and students are prepared to use AI effectively and ethically. This program should go beyond technical skills and include discussions on the ethical and societal implications of AI.

  1. Conducting a thorough needs assessment is crucial to identify areas where AI can bring the most value. Institutions should have clear outcomes in mind when integrating AI into their processes and interfaces.

  1. Establishing a cross-disciplinary task force can help institutions gain diverse perspectives and ensure that AI applications meet the needs of various stakeholders. This approach can also help mitigate risks and ensure that AI is integrated responsibly.

  1. Piloting AI projects in low-risk areas allows institutions to test the waters before fully implementing AI across  campuses. This approach can help identify challenges early on and refine strategies for broader AI integration.

  1. Ensuring the reliability and quality of data fed into AI systems is paramount. Institutions must have mechanisms in place to verify the accuracy and integrity of the data to avoid inaccurate outputs and biased results.

  1. Creating a governance framework for AI use is essential for ensuring compliance with regulations and ethical standards. This framework should include guidelines for AI use, application evaluation criteria, and mechanisms for monitoring and auditing AI systems.

Integrating AI responsibly into higher education requires a strategic and proactive approach.  Institutions can use these recommendations to evaluate how to leverage AI to enhance teaching and learning, improve operational efficiency, and better support students, faculty, and staff in the rapidly evolving educational and technological landscape.

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