A few months ago, a colleague brought me to a community college we’d never been to before for a meeting in the financial aid office. He started looking around, like he was lost. I asked him if he knew where he was going. He said, “No, I’m looking for a map.”
I scanned the campus and saw a line of students outside a door in the distance. “Bet that’s it,” I said. And it was.
How did I know? Because our poor friends in financial aid offices are saddled with technology created before their Gen Z students were born. And these fax machines, envelopes, and prehistoric software solutions are slow. They create lines.
It’s time for the end of the line.
Chatbots Are not Enough
That’s the thought that occurred to me that day on the campus. And so we spent the last two years working on something that would do just that. Get rid of lines. We call it VirtualAdvisor.
VirtualAdvisor is not a chatbot. It looks like one on the surface. But chatbots are unfinished technology. Students can ask a chatbot a question like “What scholarships do I qualify for?” and a chatbot will answer “Dictionary.com defines scholarships as...” Which isn’t useful at all. So the students give it a try. Maybe spend a few minutes on a school website trying to find an answer. Then they give up and go stand in line.
Does that sound like an exaggeration? Two weeks ago, we asked some students to film themselves trying to find an answer to a simple question. Watch what happens here.
So VirtualAdvisor Was Born
Over the years, I’ve worked in higher education, and specifically with CampusLogic, I’ve talked to hundreds of financial aid staff and quite a few students about the struggles they face. Staff are overwhelmed by the repetitive questions they are asked each day. Their queues are filled with administrative next steps, terminology confusion, or questions about where to find scholarships, while they’d rather be spending time advising students who need more one-on-one support. And students are equally frustrated with not getting simple answers quickly, and not even knowing where to look.
Our team knew there had to be a solution. Websites can get overwhelming, chatbots are unsatisfying, and staff simply don’t have the time to answer every question that comes their way. And so VirtualAdvisor was born.
VirtualAdvisor combines years of financial aid knowledge, the best AI tools around, integration with SIS, and a human touch to create the perfect tool for students and financial aid staff. Students get the context they need to be successful and are nudged to complete their financial aid journeys, while staff can monitor conversations, see reduced lines, and increase time and energy for personalized advising. In short, students are getting those recipes, directions, and trusted advice they need in one place, and staff reap the benefits.
I am excited to announce that VirtualAdvisor is now live and available for higher education institutions. Some of our trial schools are already live, and we decided to put VirtualAdvisor to the test to see if it was accomplishing its goals. As you saw in that video, the results speak for themselves.
This Time, it’s Personal
Here are just a few reasons I’m excited for schools to use VirtualAdvisor:
Personalization – Connecting with your SIS and other CampusLogic products creates an unparalleled experience for students to get the information they need, specific to them. Nobody cares about how many scholarships the school offers if they only qualify for one. This is the recipe—the context that makes financial aid relevant.
Nudging – As students ask questions to VirtualAdvisor, they will often be prompted to take next steps. For example, if they ask, “What is verification?”, they will be given the definition along with an option to complete steps of their own. These are their directions—a guide to make it to their destination, helping them through the funding journey to graduation.
Advisor Monitoring – There are cases where a human touch is needed, and staff can easily see this in VirtualAdvisor. Through the product’s StudentAdvisor screens, staff can monitor conversations in real-time, see sentiment analysis, and intervene if a student needs additional assistance. That's the personal touch.
There are other features that will help even more students, including instant translation to over 60 languages, the ability to have VirtualAdvisor work through text and social media in addition to embedding on your website, and a library of financial aid video content.
Watch the launch keynote here or schedule a demo.