AI Literacy: An Opportunity for Higher Education

January 30, 2024

Gray DI highlights emerging programs that hold potential for higher education institutions each year. In January 2022, we identified Generative AI as an emerging program area (we called it “Creative AI” back then). This year, AI continues at the top of our list.  In particular, “AI Literacy” is a promising program that could drive growth at most colleges and universities.

Everything, Everywhere, All At Once

Generative AI has taken the world by storm. AI is becoming inescapable – it seems to be “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.” 

Anyone and everyone can now use Generative AI tools to write text, create images (like the one above), compose music, produce software code, and screen potential drugs. ChatGPT was introduced in late November 2023 and reached 100 million users within two months. It took smartphones 16 years to reach that many users. 

AI Literacy as the New Digital Literacy

AI Literacy refers to the ability to use artificial intelligence (AI) technology and tools in a meaningful and informed way. This includes understanding the tools available, knowing the strengths and limitations of different AI tools and systems, choosing the right tool for the job, and learning how to interact with them productively and strategically, with little or no coding.

It is not about creating AI software but using the tools at work and everyday life.  This applies to all kinds of jobs and industries and to students, faculty, and staff in higher education. AI tools like ChatGPT, Bard, and DALL.E are now commonplace. Their rapid adoption signals an urgent need for education and adaptation. The bar has been raised, and we all need to learn how to use AI to jump higher. Colleges can and should play a key role.

Adapt or be Automated

In this brave new world, understanding and using artificial intelligence is essential. 

Importantly for colleges and universities, McKinsey & Company predicts that AI’s impact will be felt most in occupations requiring higher education, partly because AI’s ability to understand natural language gives it cognitive capabilities more applicable to tasks involving decision-making and collaboration rather than physical work.  Knowledge workers will need to become AI-literate to stay competitive. 

On a brighter note, while the rise of AI is spurring fears of job losses and worker displacement, it is also creating new jobs and opportunities. The World Economic Forum identified Prompt Engineering as one of the top “jobs of the future.”  Whether this is a standalone job or a skill is up for debate, but regardless, prompt engineering is an example of new opportunities driven by generative AI. In the not-too-distant future, we might see jobs emerge, such as AI strategists, fact-checkers, integration specialists, and algorithm auditors.  

Bipartisan Support for AI Literacy

It is not just Gray DI that believes AI Literacy is critical. Even Congress is getting on the bandwagon. In December 2023, two representatives from across the aisle introduced the bipartisan Artificial Intelligence (AI) Literacy Act that underscores the criticality of AI understanding in today’s economy. According to the press release introducing the bill:

“The impact of AI on every part of modern life is now apparent. As we move forward, knowledge of AI systems and how they are used will be essential for workers in the 21st century. Efforts to ensure students, workers, and others looking to bolster their skills at all levels have the technological literacy they need will be crucial for supporting economic competitiveness in the era of AI.” – Luke Koslosky of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology

AI Literacy Programs

As a leading education software firm that helps institutions make data-informed decisions about academic programs, Gray DI sees immediate potential for colleges and universities to launch programs and courses focused on AI Literacy. This could take many forms, examples of which are highlighted below:

Short Certificate Programs 

Miami Dade College recently launched two new college credit certificates: Artificial Intelligence Practitioner and Artificial Intelligence Awareness. The latter targets the “AI enthusiasts” and working professionals seeking to upskill in their current careers. The program promises to “empower individuals in varied disciplines to future-proof their careers by understanding the skills and knowledge needed to work effectively alongside AI systems.”

Skills-Based Courses and Microcredentials

Prompt Engineering is relevant right now as a skill or a standalone job. And students are interested.  Davidson College offers a “crash course” on  AI Prompt Engineering for Beginners on the edX platform. Vanderbilt University offers a three-course Prompt Engineering Specialization on Coursera.  One of the courses – Prompt Engineering for ChatGPT – has enrolled over 200,000 students. 

Executive Education

AI Literacy is an immediate opportunity in executive education. Cornell University’s eCornell unit offers an AI Strategy certificate for business leaders to provide a fundamental understanding of AI tools and how they can be leveraged in their organizations. MIT launched a course for employers and executives in Applied Generative AI for Digital Transformation that covers topics such as using prompt engineering to improve productivity, strategies for using generative AI to automate workflows, and the ethical, compliance, and risk aspects associated with AI.

AI Literacy As a “Gen Ed”

We may soon witness AI Literacy becoming a fundamental part of the core curriculum. This inclusion would ensure that all students, irrespective of their major, possess a basic understanding of AI and its applications.

Embracing AI Literacy

AI is evolving and expanding fast, and it is an immediate growth opportunity for innovative colleges and universities. The democratization of AI is not a fleeting trend but a fundamental shift in how we interact with technology and the world around us. Higher education leaders have a crucial role in steering their students and institutions through this transformative period. By embracing AI Literacy, they can ensure their students and staff are prepared for the future and active participants in shaping it. The time to act is now – to learn, adapt, and lead in an AI-centric world.

Our 5th Annual 5 Emerging Programs Webinar has concluded, but the learning continues!

Did you miss the live event? Don’t worry! You can still access valuable resources, including the webinar recording and presentation materials. Click here to request a copy of the webinar resources. 

Elaine Rowles


Elaine works with Gray’s education clients on strategic planning projects, program portfolio evaluations, program feasibility studies, price benchmarking, and research-intensive custom project work. She has performed in-depth analyses of existing programs and institutions, as well as assessed demand and employment opportunities for new and emerging programs.

About Gray DI

Gray DI provides data, software and facilitated processes that power higher-education decisions. Our data and AI insights inform program choices, optimize finances, and fuel growth in a challenging market – one data-informed decision at a time.

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