Please note: This case study is also available in Spanish.
The College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago
(COSTAATT) was founded with the goal of transforming the lives of its
students and preparing them for employment, future studies, or both. Known
for producing tech-savvy graduates, the institution realized it needed to
modernize aspects of its student experience to continue fulfilling its mission.
Thanks to regional partners, TouchNet’s leading commerce technology, and a
well-paced marketing strategy, COSTAATT delivers a first-rate, student-centric
payment experience that matches its academic offerings and outcomes.
When COSTAATT was established in October 2000 by the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, preparing students
for careers and advanced study in science, technology, and applied arts was among its primary objectives.
Since its founding, the College has become known for its successful track record of producing exceptionally
work-ready graduates. But as the school outgrew its homegrown IT solutions, it became harder to deliver a
student experience commensurate with the school’s educational achievements.
Dr. Camille Samuel, Vice President of Student Affairs, explained that a perfect storm of
institutional policies, cultural perceptions, and budget constraints left COSTAATT with a
legacy IT system that could no longer keep pace with student expectations and was also
problematic to maintain. The student experience needed to improve to match COSTAATT’s
reputation for academic excellence.
Finding itself at a crossroads, the institution opted to update its legacy systems with a combination of new
technology, savvy marketing, and incremental updates that maximized its resources. Partnering with TouchNet to
move to an advanced online payment system in 2018 played a large part in this strategy, which has proved hugely
successful and become the cornerstone for future expansion.
Navigating the path to a better student experience
While the effort to update legacy systems was off to a good start, student perception and engagement were just
some of the factors the leadership team had to contend with simultaneously. For example, because the student
registration system and fee payments were two big areas students wanted modernized, the adoption of a new
system and approach to campus commerce needed to be technology-driven by necessity. To successfully entrench
the new technology at the College, a critical focus had to be placed on changing student perceptions and their
distrust of online payments systems and digital transactions.
As a publicly funded institution, COSTAATT also had a limited budget for new solutions to accommodate its
need for system efficiency and a better student experience. Despite the urgent need to update their legacy system,
it was clear COSTAATT’s leadership had to carefully choose their path forward. The updating of IT systems could
no longer be done from a purely technological standpoint, without reference to key user requirements, if the
College was serious about undergirding its relevance to the 21st Century student population. With the support
of President Dr. Gillian Paul, Dr. Samuel secured the required funding for the strategic repositioning of IT within
the college environment.
The mitigating power of partnerships
TouchNet, with decades of experience providing solutions to higher education institutions, was able to identify the
school’s constraints. Thanks to the integration with Ellucian’s Banner student information system and a strategically
designed solutions roadmap, TouchNet implemented an online payment system for tuition and other academic
fees that students could access from any computer or mobile device. This system immediately lessened the
pressure on school staff and improved the student experience because payments could be made anytime from
anywhere. This improvement not only addressed the long lines at the cashier’s office, but also mitigated the
accessibility issues experienced at campuses in the country’s rural areas.
Building confidence one transaction at a time
Of course, the long cashier lines during the registration cycle did not disappear overnight. Once the new system
was in place, the team had to build student confidence in the technology. To ensure student acceptance, the
school’s IT team and TouchNet personnel made themselves available to guide users through account set up,
pending payments, and other new processes. Their collective vigilance and commitment to immediate responses
helped to ensure a successful transition, adoption, and trust in the new system.
Since the student launch of COSTAATT’s online payment facility in September 2018,
the system’s usage rate has grown steadily as more students acknowledge it is both
convenient and secure.
As is well-understood at COSTAATT, true change and lasting adoption cannot be
rushed but is rather an outcome of deliberate behavioral analysis, consistent attention
to stakeholder feedback, and entrenching learning in organizational systems. Dr. Samuel confirmed the statistical
data from the first year’s use of the payment system will be combined with student online payment feedback survey
results to create another online payment campaign for the new academic year beginning August 2019. This
campaign is expected to reinforce continued growth regarding system adoption.
Dr. Samuel and her colleagues are encouraged by their progress. “Integrating TouchNet’s Payment Center to
produce this new online environment was a big success for us,” Samuel said. “It showed not just our capacity for
excellence and dedication to enhancing the student experience at the College, but also our ability to listen and
hear the specifics of what students were saying and to take those challenges head on.”
Planning with an eye toward the future
After roughly three years of balancing priorities, stretching funding, nurturing partnerships, and building trust in
new technology, Dr. Samuel is more than optimistic. She likens her school to a phoenix reclaiming its place among
the country’s technology elite and says COSTAATT is confident about its future.
The school’s resurgence since modernizing its payment system has encouraged the College leaders to implement
additional updates using TouchNet solutions. “From the time we launched the online payment facility via Payment
Center, the very next project we started to work on was fully operationalizing the accounts receivable module in
Banner and integrating this with TouchNet’s payment platform,” Dr. Samuel said. “The Board of Trustees is looking
at this project with great excitement.”
Thanks to the momentum created, the school is now 95 percent done updating its processing backlog, which
means another important record keeping area will be modernized and up-to-date. This is also another hallmark
achievement for student support. Students will be able to track their debt and payments made to the College
instantly via their smart phones or laptops. Those seeking tuition support from the Government (via the
Government Assistance for Tuition Grant [GATE] system) will be able to view and track their funding application
status in real-time, in one location, upon project completion.
As Dr. Samuel contemplates COSTAATT’s plans for the near future, her enthusiasm grows.
For COSTAATT’s annual 5K race — the school’s largest public event, planned in conjunction
with Mother’s Day in 2019 — their freshly installed TouchNet Marketplace payment solution
provided an opportunity for the school to reach new external audiences. Of the 476 people
who completed the full registration process, almost 50 percent of the registered race
participants (236) chose to process their payment via TouchNet’s online payment platform,
with a 49 percent first-time system user adoption rate. The 5K event provided a testing
opportunity with their virtual storefront, with 28 merchandise orders fulfilled.
COSTAATT has pledged to continue their drive for greater adoption of these
new tech-driven services and features. Further, as the 5K race time has moved
to a more family-friendly Saturday afternoon to attract a larger number of
community participants, the online payment system will now facilitate the
ease with which members of the public can participate in the event.
According to Samuel, “Having the general public — people who are not affiliated
with the College — interface with the online payment mechanism bodes well
for the College as these individuals will get used to the core mechanism the College plans to use to promote other
products and services.” This is seen as an important next step in the school’s efforts to retain its top technology spot.
Judging by its strong partnerships and successes so far, the technology-fueled COSTAATT phoenix is here to stay.