Strategies to create seamless payment interactions, improve student retention and drive operational efficiencies in higher education
Today’s college students expect payment interactions and experiences to be mobile-enabled, secure, and seamless. These interactions can range from tuition and fee payments, purchasing textbooks, renting a tennis racquet at the recreation center, buying a burger at the on-campus restaurant chain, to paying a parking ticket.
Technology and expectations are all evolving rapidly, and campus payment systems must do the same. Schools need the capability to connect all vendors, payment channels, processing, reporting, and even physical access points across campus into one centralized platform integrated with the Student Information System (SIS). Integration offers frictionless interaction no matter what type of devices students use.
For administrators, a centralized platform offers greater visibility into all transactions, making it easier to identify opportunities for efficiencies. Automated reporting capabilities can pull real-time information into dashboards that display whatever level of detail is required for making financial decisions. Automation removes many of the manual tasks involved in reporting and reconciling data from multiple sources, freeing up staff to focus more on serving students.
Help students manage costs with flexible payment options
Most schools offer tuition payment plans with prescribed cadences that may not fit all students’ financial contexts and needs. This lack of flexibility could prevent a student from staying enrolled.
A payment plan solution that is fully integrated with the SIS can automate plan management, provide self-service tools for students and allow them to select payment schedules that work for them (within parameters set by the school). It can also provide students with real-time information. For example, account balances refresh as soon as a student adds or drops a class, makes a payment, or receives financial aid. Automated communications notify students when balances change, send reminders and confirm payments. Simultaneously, the finance office is relieved of much of the burden of managing accounts.
Keep students enrolled while generating revenue
At every school, some students will fall behind in tuition and fee payments. Many will leave on their own, thinking they have no options and not waiting to hear from the financial office, even if its slow response is due to staff manually tracking delinquent accounts on a spreadsheet.
With outstanding balances still on the books, and dwindling resources to contact students before it’s too late, schools typically see no option other than sending the balance to a collection agency. In these cases, the agency’s fee, typically 25 percent of the balance, becomes an increased burden for the student and a loss of revenue to the university. Those students also suffer long-term damage to their credit score.
Forward-thinking schools are relying on third-party software and service solutions to identify delinquency as soon as it occurs, while the student is still on campus. A trusted partner can serve as an extension of the school’s internal team by advocating for students and helping them resolve past-due balances. When schools apply this strategy, 25 percent of students with delinquent accounts re-enroll — far better than the less than one percent who re-enroll when sent to collections.
With a dedicated team focused on resolving issues, schools retain more students and revenue. Meanwhile, the school staff’s delinquent-account workload is reduced by as much as 95 percent, leaving more time to attend to the students who may be lining up outside their offices.
Reduce compliance overhead and enhance data security
Like any other entity that accepts credit and debit cards, schools are required to comply with Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards. Demonstrating compliance through Self-Assessment Questionnaires (SAQs) is increasingly complex, and failure can be costly.
An integrated platform not only provides a streamlined solution to handle disparate payment sources, it can also provide a solution for data security. When an end-to-end financial interaction is contained within a secure and compliant environment that is managed by a PCI-certified expert, schools can trust that cardholders’ data is secure. Additionally, the third party that provides the compliant environment is ultimately responsible for the school’s PCI compliance.
Moreover, the school’s Information Technology (IT) department can be removed from the PCI compliance process if data is stored in PCI-compliant data centers separate from the school’s systems.
Focus staff on students and the financial health of the institution
As school finance leaders cope with the mandate to “do more with less,” the need to streamline processes and shift away from transactional tasks to more advisory and strategic financial work becomes increasingly necessary.
As the finance office transforms processes and procedures, higher value activities aimed at delivering a positive student experience will replace manually intensive tasks, such as:
- Providing programs and guidance geared toward increasing students’ financial literacy skills
- Working directly with students seeking help with applications and financial aid
- Developing plans for assisting students in enrolling in and paying for subsequent terms
- Dedicating time to these efforts elevates the position of the finance staff to one of advocate and counselor for the students.
Operating in a transformed office should allow finance leaders more time to focus on driving operational efficiencies, analyzing investment opportunities, and evaluating financial impacts of proposed projects. As the competition for students increases, cost containment and strategic investments that add value for students will be critical differentiators.
Wrangle data to improve student experience and campus operations
IoT devices allow schools to gather data from disparate sources across campus operations, providing nearly limitless opportunities to improve student experiences, graduation rates and allocation of limited resources.
Consider the following examples of how big data and analytics can be applied across campus:
- Provide real-time updates on availability of services and amenities like treadmills at the gym, workstations at the library or tutoring slots
- Use predictive analytics to identify students who may be at risk of missing payments
- Identify success factors and warning indicators for students participating in specific degree programs
- Use external data sources to identify and resolve retention challenges
- Analyze the operational costs of different buildings to determine whether to invest in preventative maintenance or reduce spend.
Armed with the power of predictive analytics and data visualization, leaders can better manage student progress, gain operational efficiencies, and ultimately increase the odds of success for future generations of students.
Securing the Institution's Mission
For many institutions, competition for students is increasing, as the pool of prospective students is shrinking. Success in attracting and retaining students through graduation is essential to continue schools’ missions of inspiring and educating.
The landscape is challenging. But it also presents an opportunity for finance leaders to embrace technologies that elevate student experience and engagement and focus staff on creating sustainable financial health for the school. As schools begin operationalizing these strategies, they should consider partners who provide the latest technology solutions, proven expertise, and accompanying services.
TouchNet and ECSI are part of Global Payments’ Education Solutions division and work together to meet the common interests of institutions of higher education. TouchNet is the leading provider of integrated, comprehensive, and secure commerce and credentials solutions for colleges and universities. ECSI provides a full range of services in support of the entire lifecycle of higher education and post-graduation. Together, TouchNet and ECSI bring decades of experience supporting thousands of schools worldwide through innovative, comprehensive solutions that deliver the experience students expect and the efficiency administrators need.