UNC expects to save $100K through eBilling

UNC could save $100,000 a year by switching to eBilling.
UNC says it could save $100,000 a year by switching to eBilling.

Paying bills online is nothing new for 20-somethings, but the University of North Carolina’s elimination of traditional snail mail in sending out tuition bills means students will have to grant bill-pay account access to their financial handlers: mom and dad.

The 28,000-student Chapel Hill, N.C., campus announced recently that it would do away with paper bills sent through the mail and switch exclusively to eBills sent to students’ university-issued eMail accounts beginning in July. The switch could save the university $100,000 annually, according to the announcement.

eBilling is an option available at many colleges, but few institutions have gone to an entirely electronic billing system, higher-education experts said.

Ian Lee, UNC’s student body secretary, said college students are accustomed to receiving monthly billing statements in their eMail in-boxes and paying for their cell phones, for example, by entering checking account information or credit card numbers on a company’s web site.

But using the university’s new payment system, Lee said, will give students “a new layer of responsibility” in paying the school on time, because sending eBills directly to parents would violate North Carolina’s student privacy guidelines, dictated by the Family Education and Rights Privacy Act (FERPA).

Students can give parents access to their web-based billing when the system launches this summer, the university said in a statement on its ConnectCarolina web site. ConnectCarolina maintains an active Facebook page where officials answer students’ registration and tuition questions.

“I really think this is where higher education is going to move,” said Lee, 20, a North Carolina junior, adding that he pays rent and credit card statements online. “This is not something that’s brand new to anyone … in college. A lot of people love the convenience of eBilling.”

Patrice Lee, Ian Lee’s mother, said she supports the school’s move to eBilling to save the campus money during fiscally tight times, adding that if students “are old enough to be away at college, they should be old enough to handle their tuition bill, even if ultimately they’re not paying [the bill].”

“They’re not babies,” Patricia Lee, a Cary, N.C., resident, said of UNC students. “It’s probably a good thing to make them responsible for their tuition bills.”

The security of web-based payments, Ian Lee said, isn’t a concern among many college students. Teenagers and 20-somethings willing to put personal information on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are not usually worried about having financial information stolen online—unlike many of their parents, he said.

“My generation of students is much more trusting of having sensitive personal information online,” he said. “Maybe too much so.”

Patricia Lee said in her son’s two years at the university, she has received bills in the mail for $2.50 library fees and other nominal charges not related to monthly tuition bills. With the cost of paper, envelopes, and postage, that system didn’t make much sense, she said.

“It seemed ridiculous to me to be getting these little bills that would cost more to send out than the bill itself,” she said.

Still, the eBilling system could be problematic for university parents who aren’t computer-savvy enough to pay bills online, or who don’t have a computer to access North Carolina’s web-based billing system, she said.

“I would have liked to see more of an opt-in system” that didn’t eliminate snail mail immediately, she said.

UNC’s new eBilling system will “have a more predictable billing cycle” than the current system, according the university’s announcement.

Bills can be paid with checking accounts at no additional charge, but using a Mastercard will come with a transaction fee, the university announced.

Charging extra to pay tuition using credit cards is common in higher education. Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., for example, charges a 2 percent “convenience fee” for all credit card charges through its eBill system, according to the school’s Financial Aid Services web site. Columbia College Chicago adds a 2.75 percent “service charge” to online payments made with credit cards, according to the college’s web site.


University of North Carolina’s ConnectCarolina

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