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2022 Top Trends for Higher Ed Business Officers

1/12/2022 8:00:00 AM

Happy New Year! As we continue to work toward a new normal, there are some emerging topics and growing concerns on campuses that warrant close attention. Payments and credentials continue to evolve as students, staff, and the world around them keeps changing. Here are a few trends we’re keeping an eye on in 2022.

1. Understanding Gen Z Financial Habits

It appears that Gen Z is more averse to taking on debt than previous generations and actively seeks alternatives to student loans. This age cohort is enrolling in higher education, but often in fewer credit hours to manage costs more easily. 

To help students stay enrolled and manage their finances, colleges and universities could offer tailored payment plans. Transparent, integrated payment plans help students avoid debt, stay on top of their financial responsibilities, and continue to make progress toward a degree. In turn, offering payment options help institutions meet student needs, automate student account updates, and stay in touch with students, all of which positively impact student retention and bolster revenue. 

2. Tackling Stranded Credits

Stranded credits is an emerging topic that I’ve seen gain a lot of attention, and for good reason. Its scope is significant: 6.6 million students have $15 billion in unpaid balances to colleges and universities, and the disruptions of the pandemic have likely increased these figures.

We’d all like to avoid unpaid balances or, even worse, sending students to collections. Payment plans are again a potential solution. Providing a choice of payment plan options tailored to students’ situations keeps them on track financially and academically and helps institutions avoid unpaid debt and sending anyone to collections. Like most things, payment plans work best when implemented proactively but can be offered after the fact, too. Addressing stranded credits will help students achieve their goals and help institutions recoup costs, generate enrollment, and increase revenue. 

3. Sponsored Payments

More companies are sponsoring more of their employees’ educations in more ways than ever, and research says the trend will not be temporary. This is a great opportunity for increased enrollment and revenue, and a great way to build relationships between school, students, and employers. 

But managing sponsored payments from corporations, foreign governments, philanthropic groups, and other sponsoring organizations is complex and differs from standard procedures. Because sponsors often pay for multiple students at one institution, allocating payments becomes a complicated process of identifying which accounts should receive which funds. Administering refunds can add further difficulties. Manually processing these transactions demands significant staff time and effort to coordinate and accurately handle. In an era of resource constraints, colleges and universities cannot afford this drain on time and labor. Technology solutions can reduce if not eliminate much of this manual work and expand revenue margins. 


4. Growing Security Concerns Means Heightened Security Measures

The concerns over security and the costs of security breaches, especially ransomware, have increased in the last three years in all industries. Higher education ransomware incidents are surging, too – just last week a single attack affected 5,000 schools. The average total cost of a data breach has reached $3.9 million, in addition to the damage to reputation. Nobody wants to be in the headlines with this problem. 

Regarding payment and credentials data, it is crucial for colleges and universities to stay current on the latest compliance changes and security measures and the software updates that accommodate them. Nacha continues to refine and release new operating standards for ACH payments to improve the security of transactions. The Payments Cards Industry Security Standards Council continually evaluates it’s standards for payment data security to fend off hackers and protect payment data. With big changes coming this year, PCI DSS 4.0 will be top of mind for everyone.

5. The Staffing Gap and Solutions for it

Like so many industries, higher education has experienced layoffs and hiring freezes because of COVID-19 and losses due to the Great Resignation. Unfortunately, the resulting staffing gap has been slow to decrease and affected many aspects of campus operations

A solution to this problem with sustained long term benefits is the use of technology as a force multiplier, in that software can do the work of multiple staff with speed and accuracy. For example, payment reconciliation can be automated with integrated software that unifies data from multiple systems rather than a labor-intensive, manual process. Or by replacing physical ID cards with virtualized credentials, the labor and production costs of administering, printing, and issuing cards is eliminated, plus a single administrator can remotely activate, suspend, resume, or remove individuals’ access to spaces and services across campus. Whether it’s moving to the cloud, launching a chat bot to handle general questions, or advanced analytics that provide insight into your campus, technology can collapse the processes that take staff time away from students. 

6. Mobile Technology Continues to Transform Campuses

We are in the midst — maybe just  the beginning — of the digital era and the pandemic has accelerated mobile dependency in consumer’s lives. And so it goes that students arrive on campus with the same expectations of mobile-based services they have off campus. Meeting these expectations is not just good for students, it also benefits the staff administering and supporting these services.

Our annual Student Financial Experience Report shows how today’s students, the “mobile generation”, are accustomed to relying on technology in their daily lives and bring that habit to campus payments and finances. For example, 92% of students use at least one app to interact with their college or university, and the three most important features students want in a university app are finance-related: the ability to make and manage payments, get refunds, and monitor and update campus finances (e.g. declining balances, meal plans). 

In addition to meeting student expectations, digital payment solutions are more secure, accurate, and faster than traditional payment processes. In addition, they can reduce staff demands and generate insightful data to improve services and operations. To transform your campus, you need a mobile transition plan in place. Maybe consider starting with a mobile assessment of your campus. 

Looking Forward

The new year has only just started and these are but a few of the trends that could have a significant impact on campuses this year. We at TouchNet look forward to working with our customers and partners to address these challenges, and more, in 2022. It is a joy to support such a dedicated and passionate community as higher education, and we take inspiration from the mission-driven spirit to create the best payment and credentialing solutions for colleges and universities.