Blackboard unveils system for disbursing student aid

Students will be able to use Blackboard Pay cards to withdraw from ATMs.
Students will be able to use Blackboard Pay cards to withdraw from ATMs.

Some college students will be able to use their allotted financial aid by swiping a debit card instead of waiting for paper checks to come to their dorm rooms or houses after Blackboard Inc. this week launched a student payroll system.

Officials from Blackboard, the largest provider of learning management systems (LMS) software in K-12 schools and colleges, said the Blackboard Pay program would not charge overdraft fees or other penalties common among banks and other companies that issue debit cards.

Blackboard is teaming up with First Data and Discover to distribute the cards, which students will use to spend the per-semester or annual aid they are granted through federal or private loans. Student card holders will be able to use the Blackboard Pay cards to get cash from ATMs with the Pulse, Allpoint, or STAR Network logos, among other companies.

“Given the high fees normally associated with other payment card products, we think students and institutions will benefit from a card-based disbursement program that is rich with features,” said David Marr, president of Blackboard Transact.

Blackboard did not release the number of U.S. colleges and universities that will use Blackboard Pay. Several campus administrators contacted by eCampus News said they would reserve judgment until the system was widely used in higher education.

Beltsville, Md.-based First Data, one of the largest merchant processing service providers, will head Blackboard Pay’s program management and transaction processing as part of its Money Network program.

Blackboard’s Pay system meets federal Title IV requirements, because all student accounts will be FDIC insured.

Higher-education IT officials, some of whom are critical of Blackboard’s LMS and favor more open-source technology use on college campuses, said the company’s Pay program is worth considering.

“I think this sounds like a good product that is wholly unrelated to the Blackboard LMS,” said Raymond Schroeder, director of the University of Illinois’s Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service and a critic of some of Blackboard’s products and services. “I imagine that some colleges and universities will see it as a cost-effective way to distribute funds to students.”

Schroeder said technology decision makers who have gravitated away from Blackboard and toward open-source options in recent years should nevertheless take a serious look at the Pay program.

“I do not harbor any suspicions about this product,” Schroeder said. “I see it as an entirely separate venture of Blackboard from the products we have seen before.”

The Pay program comes just days after Blackboard Transact announced its contactless solution, which will let college students pay for meals, books, and other products with the wave of a smart card, saving time on busy campuses nationwide.

A Blackboard announcement said hundreds of institutions would use the Transact contactless solution.