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Opinion: Live Chat and Chatbots Aid Engagement, Enrollment

Colleges and universities across the U.S. are seeing declining enrollment, but digital engagement tools could be part of attracting a generation of digital natives, meeting them where they are, 24/7, in any time zone.

illustration of a chatbot robot on a circuit board
If you work in postsecondary enrollment, you know better than anyone how fierce competition for student enrollment has become in the last few years. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities decreased by 4.1 percent from spring 2021 to spring 2022. Looking back two years, the view is even bleaker – enrollment declined by 7.4 percent from 2020 to 2022.

Faced with what seems like an uphill battle, many schools are seeking ways to reverse this trend by investing in a variety of digital transformation projects. However, too many are neglecting an area that plays a critical role in enrollment – digital student support and engagement.

Today’s students have exceptionally high expectations for support. First and foremost, they expect speed. According to a recent report from Salesforce, 72 percent of Gen Z say they expect an immediate interaction with someone when they contact a company. In tandem with this, students also expect support when it suits them, not when it suits the school’s business hours. This equates to a demand for 24/7 support. Finally, but not least importantly, students want to connect on their channel of choice, as and when it suits them. While they may sometimes want to reach out via email, the next day Twitter may be more convenient, and live chat the day after that.

To engage with prospective students, it’s crucial that schools deliver on these support expectations. Here’s how they can do it.


Live chat caters to student demands for instant support, allowing them to ask a question and receive an answer in real time with almost zero wait. Live chat is also preferred by millennials and Gen Z, who are increasingly shying away from phone calls and toward digital support channels. In fact, a 2020 survey by found that 52 percent of millennials say they feel anxious about taking a phone call, and 60 percent of Gen Z say they hate calling people. Despite this, student support teams at many universities across the U.S. still rely on old-school telephone support, potentially creating a barrier to engagement.

Cambrian College is one example of the effectiveness of live chat for engagement. Since the college’s recruitment department implemented a live chat tool in 2020, its users have given it a 4.5/5 customer satisfaction score. Live chat was also effective at helping them develop relationships with prospective students. Alison Caruso, manager of student recruitment at Cambrian College, said live chat helps the institution provide personal and genuine support to students.

“The people we speak to on live chat also really enjoy the more casual and colloquial nature of the support, which helps us to build relationships while still being informative and helpful,” she said in a public statement.


While the expectation of round-the-clock support may seem monetarily impossible, it isn’t with chatbots. By integrating chatbots into live chat software, schools can extend support all day and night, answering students' most common questions. Admissions departments most frequently use chatbots to take on repetitive FAQs that are simple in nature but as important to answer as any query from a prospective student. This 24/7 support leads to broadening engagement with prospective students, particularly international students that live in different time zones around the world.

Add artificial intelligence into the mix and bots can do more than just answer common queries. AI chatbots can capture prospective students’ information for lead generation, help students with bookings and appointments, and ultimately give them confidence in the admissions process so they complete enrollment.

While many industries are hesitant about adopting bots for fear that their demographic audience will be uncomfortable using them, this isn’t the case for higher education. According to a 2019 study by the software company NICE inContact, Gen Z are the most open to chatbots of any demographic and most likely to agree that bots resolve their issues more quickly and easily.

To begin reversing the enrollment decline, it’s crucial that schools listen to students and understand what really matters to them. Providing them with the right support could mean transitioning away from traditional modes of communication in telephone and email, and investing in digital channels such as live chat and chatbots.

Chris Bechtel is vice president of global marketing for Comm100 Network Corporation. Chris is a growth expert, startup adviser, former SaaS CEO and marketing executive with 20 years of sales and marketing expertise specializing in demand generation, customer acquisition and revenue growth.