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The World Economic Forum has estimated that artificial intelligence (AI) will replace some 85 million jobs by 2025. That’s only eight months away! A study by Goldman Sachs projects that over the longer term, artificial intelligence could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs. It could replace a quarter of work tasks in the U.S. and Europe.

However, this also means new jobs and a productivity boom. And it could eventually increase the total annual value of goods and services produced globally by 7 percent. The report predicts two-thirds of jobs in the U.S. and Europe “are exposed to some degree of AI automation,” and approximately one quarter of all jobs could be performed by AI entirely.

In one of the first in-depth studies of the impact of GenAI on enterprise workers, Harvard joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Penn’s Wharton School in investigating the use of generative AI among hundreds of consultants working for the respected Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The findings showed a complete range of tasks that were accomplished more often, more quickly and at a higher quality than those who did not use AI. Overall, the study reported a 40-percent increase in productivity among the enterprise workers.

In another corporate example, just one month after taking its OpenAI-powered virtual assistant global, the Swedish buy-now, pay-later company, Klarna, released results showing the ability to handle customer communications, make shoppers happier and even increase profits. Their app-based AI chatbot provided two-thirds of all customer service chats, some 2.3 million conversations so far. Customer satisfaction ratings were reported at the same level as human agents. Announcing a partnership with OpenAI early last year, Klarna said it was one of the first companies to integrate the ChatGPT technology into a plug-in for shopping. The company estimates that the chatbot could help improve its profits by $40 million in 2024 alone.

The CEO of OpenAI has projected that nearly all dedicated marketing jobs will be performed by AI in the future. Sam Altman says that AI will do “95% of what marketers use agencies, strategists, and creative professionals for today.” And, he says AGI will be a reality in five years “give or take, maybe slightly longer.”

What, then, can we expect in higher education? Given the mounting pressure from states and consumers to make higher ed more affordable, we certainly can anticipate that GenAI will be explored as an option across the university. In closely watching this field over the past two years, my take is that we will see a steady, incremental reduction in force at colleges and universities as GenAI adapts to more efficiently and effectively performing professional jobs. Here is a beginning list of some of the jobs that may be first in line for automation through GenAI:

  • Marketing and Campus Relations Positions—These will require only minimal staffing/supervision as per Altman’s prediction.
  • Admissions and Enrollment—Student recruitment and admissions advisors will be replaced in most cases by Chatbots. As with the Klarna example above, these bots will be able to give comprehensive and consistent counsel to students. A bonus will be that they will be fluent and skilled in writing, reading, speaking and comprehending foreign languages of students for whom English is not their first language.
  • The Division of Finance and Administration—Accountancy positions and middle management positions are projected to be replaced by AI with only minimal human supervision.
  • Administrative Assistants—Reduction in staff with only minimal supervision of AI assistants at all administrative levels.
  • Selected librarian client and operations duties will be able to be performed effectively and efficiently by Chatbots.
  • Faculty for Introductory and Lower Division Classes to be largely replaced by artificial instructors overseen by experienced “master faculty” who will teach one section and handle unique cases that arise among a dozen or more sections of the same class with a Chatbot as the instructor.
  • Student advising and tutoring, note that the two-sigma difference originally posited by Benjamin Bloom in research on student learning performance indicated that if students had an individual tutor, their class performance would improve by two standard deviations. Now that impact is being reported by Salman Khan in using the OpenAI-powered tutor, Khanmigo.

This is just a beginning list of areas where we may find AI replacing humans at colleges and universities in the next couple of years. How does one prepare for these changes? How do supervisors prepare their vulnerable staff members for such changes?

Earlier this year, I inquired of Gemini pro, the Google-operated GenAI application, about some of the considerations regarding terminations, layoffs, retraining, upskilling and related actions in higher education due to GenAI replacement of humans. Gemini replied to the initial prompt:

Here’s a list of considerations for leaders facing the difficult choice of layoffs vs. retraining when adopting generative AI technologies. It’s important to note that there’s no single right answer, and the best decision will depend on the specific circumstances of your business:

I. Financial Considerations

Layoff costs vs. retraining costs: Calculate the long-term financial implications of both layoffs (severance packages, potential loss of morale and productivity) and retraining (training programs, lost productivity during training).

Potential ROI of retraining: Assess the potential long-term gains from investing in existing employees. Would a retrained workforce yield better productivity and quality improvements than hiring new talent?

Cost of lost knowledge: Consider the value of experienced employees and the cost of lost organizational and process knowledge during layoffs.

Gemini went on to discuss in detail “ethical considerations, human resource and talent management, company culture and morale, operational agility and long-term strategy” and more. I was particularly impressed with the attention paid to ethical, equity and human impact concerns.

It is important to realize that these changes are upon us. Well-prepared institutions will have considered the challenges and opportunities by the end of this academic year. They will have conducted copious public forums and discussions at the department, college, division and institution-wide levels. A host of counseling services and opportunities for upskilling, reskilling and career-change support will be offered to faculty and staff. The ramifications for personal careers, institutional stability, and student support are enormous. The opportunities for enhancing quality and saving expenditures are equally enormous. Will your institution be among the leaders that will shape the future of higher education, or will it fall behind in service, quality and reputation?