Wayne State University has launched a new public information service — called DetroitEd411 — to provide the community with free, 24/7 access to resources about post-secondary education opportunities via Facebook Messenger. DetroitEd411 seeks to empower the community and strengthen the city’s workforce by providing guidance and resources addressing all tracks of education, including vocational training, GED opportunities, community colleges and traditional four-year institutions.
The service is the result of a broader collaborative partnership between WSU and the Detroit Regional Chamber (DRC) to support adult learners and improve college attainment and career readiness in Detroit. The city was recently named a Talent Hub by the Lumina Foundation and Kresge Foundation — a national designation recognizing cities meeting rigorous standards for creating environments that attract, retain and cultivate talent among today’s students.
“As we continue shifting to a knowledge-based economy, there’s an increasing demand for workers with an education beyond high school,” said Keith Whitfield, WSU’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “We’re working to ensure that all people in Detroit — no matter where they are on their educational pathway — have equal access to resources that have the ability to change their lives. We want to ensure everyone is prepared to succeed and to positively impact our community.”
To access the service, users will engage through Facebook Messenger with “Spirit,” named after the Spirit of Detroit, to ask questions and access educational information. Created with students of all ages in mind, Spirit is equipped to answer questions about everything from financial aid and housing to childcare. While designed to assist those in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties, much of the content within DetroitEd411 can assist anyone in need of post-secondary information.
WSU created the DetroitEd411 after receiving a Collaborative Opportunity Grant from the Coalition of Urban-Serving Universities (USU), in partnership with the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
“The Detroit411 project stands out as an innovative approach that is part of a broader sea of change we’re seeing in higher education,” said Shannon Looney, APLU’s Deputy Director of Urban Initiatives. “WSU’s partnership with the Chamber uniquely leverages both existing relationships and emerging technologies to better serve all types of students. Detroit411 could serve as a national model for other programs as more institutions seek to strengthen their community outreach strategies.”
Powered by an innovative blend of artificial intelligence and supervised machine learning, DetroitEd411’s database will continue to grow, and Spirit will learn more about users’ needs as people engage with the service. This adaptive database was developed using the concept for WSU’s W chatbot, which launched in fall 2018 as an interactive tool to help incoming freshmen successfully transition to college by answering questions via text message about important college milestones.
“One of the best things about using this adaptive technology is that we’re able to meet people wherever they are and answer questions in real time, without judgment,” said Dawn Medley, WSU’s vice president of enrollment management. “The amount of information Spirit is able to provide is limitless, and the database of answers and resources will only continue to grow, adapt and expand as more people take advantage of DetroitEd411.”
Both Spirit and W are powered by the ed-tech startup AdmitHub. AdmitHub was eager to work with WSU and the DRC to expand the chatbot technology to help more people.
“Artificial intelligence can play a powerful role as a complement to the work of advisors, counselors and admissions officers as they help students navigate the college experience,” said Drew Magliozzi, CEO and co-founder of AdmitHub. “This is about enabling colleges to respond to students’ questions quickly, efficiently and at unprecedented scale — freeing up time for support staff to focus on the students who need it most.”
Ask Spirit your questions about post-secondary educational opportunities today!