When my colleagues and I set out to build an online billing and payments solution for higher education in 1997, roughly 35 percent of U.S. households owned a computer. Building and developing something that presented billing information and securely processed digital tuition payments was really complicated. As engineers, we wrote every line of code and built the experiences from scratch. Instructions on the site just telling families how to complete a payment were two paragraphs long. But at the time, it was revolutionary.
Now, it’s not. The ability to process payments online, securely, is a baseline expectation for institutions and the students they serve. And serving the needs of industries that routinely need to process high-value and high-stakes payments takes more than just delivering the money.
As core payments processing functionality is becoming more table stakes, your institution deserves, and really needs, more. That’s possible with tight alignment between IT and finance, and a partner that deeply understands the needs and speaks the language of each, especially when it comes to areas that are unique to higher education. When payments functionality is integrated with and part of the workflow in your system of record – payments data can enable valuable, and, in the case of higher ed, possibly life changing, experiences for both your students and your institution.
Here’s what I mean by that.
Solving the affordability issue in higher education is a mission for me, and something I can personally relate to as my own children pursue higher education. I think it takes creativity and a willingness to try new things – and that’s a journey our clients have shown a strong willingness to collaborate on. Together, we’re building software-driven experiences that help families with affordability of education and, ideally, reduce their needs for financial aid.
For instance, right now, we are working on breaking the old paradigm of a payment plan being tied to a semester, instead looking at how we help the family over the entire student journey. Our view is that schools should have the ability to offer longer terms to further improve affordability for students and payers.
We’re also always working with our clients on solutions to find the root cause and tackle the toughest problems – such as catching students at risk of falling behind on tuition payments and keeping them enrolled in school. Forward-thinking schools are automating the collection process with software, which surfaces at-risk accounts and analyzes data to push communication with actual solutions that drive action.
One institution has helped resolve 46 percent of past-due accounts before they go to an internal debt counselor – with students either paying in full or setting up payment plans. And counselors working on these accounts can see a complete history of actions taken up to that point – making managing the collections process with the student a lot easier.
Additionally, modernizing and enhancing decades-old student information systems that run your institution’s mission-critical processes is a priority for many schools. The challenge is doing it in a way that doesn’t burden your IT team and maintains your current processes, which may in some ways be unique to your school. One way to do that is by unlocking the information housed within the system in ways that are more intuitive and useful for both back-office users, as well as students and families – serving up student account and payments data to the finance office in easy-to-view dashboards that create alerts and help the team focus on exceptions.
It’s why it’s so important to look under the hood of the pay button. There’s higher efficiency and a better user experience when a payments provider is integrated from invoicing through receipt and reconciliation. Technology leaders value this approach because it reduces complexity of managing and maintaining different systems – the student information system remains the source of truth and users receive a modern, consumer-like experience.
These are just a few of the ways I think software-enabled experiences built on top of core payments processing capabilities will become value-adds for the clients in the many industries we serve, but particularly in the complex space of higher education. Our culture of innovation, diversity of opinion, being open to logical debate and focusing on the user journey and experience ensures we are delivering the best possible solution to higher education.
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