Date of Award

Spring 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



Committee Chair

Holly A. Foster

Committee Chair School



The increasingly competitive modern higher educational environment has forced student services professionals to increase focus on recruitment and retention, which corresponds with an expanding body of scholarly literature and research on retention practices (Moore, Hossler, Ziskin, & Wakhungu, 2008). These large-scale recruitment and retention goals coincide with significant declines in state and federal funding, leaving many financially-limited institutions struggling to balance higher expectations and declining resources. Oftentimes, institutions seek out technological platforms that streamline the workload, while remaining cognizant that selected platforms must appeal to the current student population, the technologically-savvy Generation Z (Castillo, 2018; Stillman & Stillman, 2017).

Outside of higher education, chatbots, often presented as AI assistants, have proven their popularity via products like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apple’s Siri (Dale, 2016). Now, this technology is appearing in higher education, where it has been implemented at several institutions to automate processes and facilitate communication between students and staff (Herndon, 2017).

The purpose of this action research study was to evaluate the perceptions, specifically linked to viability, of a chatbot that provides information to Southern Miss students in real-time.

This research was focused on student finances and the communications that connect a student to his or her financial information. This research found that there was significant support for financial aid and business services chatbots at USM. Although a chatbot would not alter most respondents’ enrollment plans, a majority of the former student respondents indicated that if an institution implemented a chatbot, they would have a better perception of that institution.