What we learned and loved at #COMTEC2023

Thursday, October 12, 2023

1. Collaboration powers innovation 

During the opening keynote, Adam McDonald, President of TouchNet and ECSI, shared that TouchNet and ECSI have come together to simplify the business of higher education through exceptional service and industry-leading software. This partnership is a natural extension of the services ECSI offers. With greater collaboration and shared leadership, we can execute a common vision for the future of higher ed technology. 


Together, ECSI and TouchNet span the entire student journey - from applicant to alumni. 



2. Connection matters now more than ever

It (almost) goes without saying that the past few years have transformed the way we work and communicate. The pandemic accelerated contactless payments, virtual collaboration, and many of the business operations that keep campuses thriving. 


Clients, partners, and industry experts shared different ideas for fostering connection and ensuring students don’t fall through the cracks. But it’s not just how we support our students - it’s how we, as higher ed professionals, support each other. Jeff Civillico, a Vegas entertainment headliner and our COMTEC closing keynote speaker, highlighted the importance of understanding our ability to influence and of leaning on each other as we navigate the challenges and changes facing our industry. 


We’re honored to play a behind-the-scenes role in ensuring this community has the best tools and service available to keep students engaged and on track for graduation. This event gave us an opportunity to meet with many of our clients face-to-face, as well as a chance to learn from and share ideas with new connections. For that, we’re grateful.


3. Consent is the key 

In terms of engaging with students, and especially when authorizing and collecting payments, student consent has never been more critical. How institutions collect and record consent, and ensuring both are done properly, can help schools to stay compliant and keep students enrolled. 


In their session with ECSI, both Kristy Pritchett, Director, Student Account Services at the University of Alabama, and Sean Drew, Associate Director of Student Accounts at Seattle University, shared their strategies for repeated exposure and consent to the Student Financial Responsibility Agreement (SFRA). 


“If you work in the collections space, you know that some legislation calls for schools to use a SFRA,” said Pritchett. “Because we have great partners like ECSI and TouchNet, we’ve added additional language that allows people to opt in or out of consent at any time. We capture digital acknowledgement in our student information system and present it as many times and in as many ways as possible.”


4. The AI genie is out 

Aidoo “AO” Osei, Senior Vice President for Product Strategy at Global Payments, gave a compelling presentation on the evolution of technology. “There is no way to stop what is happening in technology,” he said. “The genie is out.” AO acknowledged the trepidation many have about AI but encouraged all of us to think about how it can improve our processes.


As a Global Payments company, ECSI continues to explore how AI, Chatbots, and Phonebots can improve our services. But why do colleges and universities have a difficult time adopting and implementing new tools? We explored this in our session, “Developing a best-in-class customer support program at your institution.” 


We shared that 37 percent of universities prioritize budget considerations without understanding the tool’s role. It’s incumbent on higher ed leaders to quickly get up to speed and make the case for AI, while still following guidance to understand where AI fits and delivers positive impacts. ECSI shared tips to gain buy-in and incorporate bot technology on campus to provide a better student experience.


5. Retaining through hard times 

Lately, it seems like higher ed professionals can’t open their inboxes without reading headlines about the enrollment cliff, student retention rates, and high turnover. Dante Gentile, ECSI’s RecoverySelect Program Manager, shared that on average, the annual tuition revenue loss from students who drop out is $16.5 billion.  


While these are important trends to monitor and plan for, the future looks bright. We heard some heartening statistics and stories at COMTEC. Some institutions reported their highest enrollments ever this year. Others shared strategies for retaining their existing population. 


Gentile went on to share that business office staff using a variety of soft-touch outreach methods such as calls, emails, letters, and texts, are seeing a significant increase in retention rate for students facing financial challenges. We also learned that timing is key. The earlier schools (or third-party vendors) begin to work delinquent accounts, the more likely a student is to get back on track and stay in school. In fact, student accounts worked after the add/drop period ends produce resolution rates 6X higher than those worked after a student has left school. 



We witnessed the sparks of collaboration coming from conversations around the breakfast table and breakout sessions. Now, we’re excited to head into the future with new relationships and even greater service offerings for our clients. We hope to see everyone at COMTEC 2024 in San Antonio, Texas!


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