Each semester during sign up, Long Island University staff used to physically write down and calculate figures on paper to compile payment plans based on estimates. Many of these plans had to be changed or modified, because final bills rarely matched students’ original estimates. Additionally, the University’s only method of tracking the status of individual plans involved thumbing through drawers and drawers of filed documents. Administrators needed an electronic solution that could accept online payments, dynamically adjust data, provide detailed reports, and send automated messages to both students and their parents or guardians.
“We also wanted to improve our communications with international students and with those who lived locally in Brooklyn who received help from multiple relatives to fund their education, especially since many of them were the first generation in their family to attend a university,” says David Mainenti, Associate Vice President for Student Financial Operations at Long Island University. “It was important for us to be able to systematically see what was going on at any given time during the enrollment process and to make it as easy as possible for everyone.”
After reviewing the solutions available to them, the university decided on TouchNet Payment Plans, which allows schools to create, manage, and enroll students in tuition installment payment plans. “TouchNet was the only company with a complete suite of services ready to ‘go-live’ with our students,” Mainenti says.
Merging with the campus ERP and consolidating confusing plans
The university originally transferred its numerous legacy plans and pricing options directly into TouchNet’s platform. With so many options and variables, students were confused. “To use a common saying, we needed to make some changes to ‘keep it simple, stupid,’ Mainenti explains. “We did so by consolidating our options into one term-based plan where each student has their own five-month payment schedule based on the balance due. Student payment plans start whenever the electronic signature is received, so from the student’s perspective the plan is designed exactly for them.”
After switching to the monthly plan, the school saw participation soar, from just under 6 percent to almost 13 percent the first year. Subsequent years saw additional 1- and 2-percent increases respectively, even though total university enrollment declined during the same period. Student accounts receivable decreased at the end of each fiscal year as well, pleasing both senior leadership and the board of trustees.
The university tied the Touchnet Payment Plans rollout to the launch of its PeopleSoft Student Self Service portal. The timing gave students an online experience across the enrollment continuum — from application to payment. Long Island University tracked activity separately in an online payment plan fee tuition group so administrators could see whether students enrolled in a payment plan while browsing their account in PeopleSoft.
“If you need a solution to keep tuition payments coming in, TouchNet Payment Plans is the way to go. The staff and students loved it immediately because it’s so easy to use. It’s a no-brainer.”
— David Mainenti, Associate Vice President for Student Financial Operations at Long Island University
Improving student and family communications
The school used additional payment plan functionality to keep students better informed about delinquencies that jeopardized their enrollment status. Using delinquency reports in tandem with branded payment plan messaging templates, administrators sent students customized alerts reminding them to make their payments, enabling them to avoid defaulting and remain enrolled.
Previously, students who fell behind on two or more payments were automatically deregistered from their plan, putting them in past-due status that prevented them from registering for future classes or receiving official transcripts. These enhanced communication efforts improved student enrollment so significantly that plan default rates plunged to less than 3 percent each semester.
“When students receive customized emails with real people to call as opposed to just receiving a generic number, they are more likely to open them. It makes a big difference,” Mainenti says. “We have been able to reduce the number of past-due students who are unable to register at the start of the registration period in half. By the time the semester begins, we are really only working with the students who are truly unable to pay.”
Additionally, TouchNet Payment Plans provide front-line staff access to a wealth of user activity data that helps schools communicate directly with students. “I can’t tell you how many times students try to tell us they’ve made a payment when they haven’t,” Mainenti says. “Now we can see their entire activity. We can see what they did or didn’t do. We can see each login attempt, what card they set up, and what payments were made. This is an invaluable tool for managing your student body.”
Providing more options during the pandemic
TouchNet Payment Plans’ flexibility allowed staff to tailor specific solutions for struggling families when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. For example, university staff dropped enrollment and late fees, provided extensions, and built custom plans that helped families catch up on their payments.
“Normally, the spring semester cutoff for students to enroll in payment plans is the end of March,” Mainenti says. “But TouchNet’s functionality allowed us to keep them open all summer.” Students who were unable to make payments prior to the start of Fall 2020 were still permitted to enroll and had the option to enroll in a multi-year payment plan. With cash tight for many families, this flexibility helped students maintain enrollment status through the pandemic.
“Students and families really appreciated that we could do this for them in real-time,” Mainenti says. “As we progress forward in these difficult times, giving students the ability to pay the way they want is of the utmost importance.”
Mainenti adds, “If you need a solution to keep tuition payments coming in, TouchNet Payment Plans is the way to go. The staff and students immediately loved it because it’s so easy to use. It’s a no-brainer. If you don’t have online payment plans, you need to get them up and running at your university today.”