3 minute read

Going Cashless with Eastern Michigan University

1/3/2023 9:00:00 AM

Eastern Michigan University (EMU) is a four-year public university with 20,000 students that has been completely cashless since 2017. Beth Hardcastle, Assistant Controller for Student Business Services at EMU, joined the FOCUS podcast to discuss how no longer accepting cash payments, closing the in-person cashier’s office, and implementing payment plans have impacted their operations over the past five years.

How EMU became a cashless campus

For EMU, going cashless was the next step towards the future, but it required enabling debit/credit card and digital payments for every interaction across the institution, including student account charges and everyday purchases. As established partners with TouchNet, they were able to smoothly transition to a cashless campus with the TouchNet Payment Center and Marketplace.

To remain accessible to those who opt to use checks, drop boxes are available across campus to deposit checks. The cashiering staff can then pick up checks and process them through TouchNet’s cashiering to be posted to student accounts. EMU also has a credit union on campus that allows students who still prefer cash to receive cashier’s checks. Some departments like health services and the childcare center still accept cash, which then use the TouchNet web deposit to put the payment into an account with the credit union.

Going cashless also meant a role change for campus cashiers. Now, the cashiers at EMU are integrated into a one-stop shop helpdesk in customer service-oriented roles dedicated to student account needs.

Benefits of reducing cash on campus

The two primary benefits EMU has seen from going cashless are increased security and improved payment management. Eliminating cash on campus greatly reduced the liability that comes with having large amounts of cash on hand. Staff no longer have to stress over all the safety precautions that come with cash. Additionally, with primarily digital payment methods, backend management and reconciliation became much easier to manage.

An unforeseen benefit to going cashless was how easy it became to transition to fully remote learning during the pandemic. Because they were already used to not having a physical cashier’s office, students, parents, and staff were unfazed by making payments online. For the students who used the drop boxes, EMU was able to have minimal staff on campus to take care of processing.

Improving payment operations

In addition to relieving the stresses of cash and adapting to the pandemic, going cashless created the opportunity to reevaluate cash flow trends through the year, which resulted in exploring new payment plan offerings. EMU implemented the option for students to divide their balance over five installments with no additional fees. Spreading out tuition payments over several months encourages students and parents to make payments early, providing EMU with a more consistent revenue flow during summer months.

Payment plans have also helped the university with their accounts receivable. One condition of the five installment plan is that students must make their first payment during registration. Once EMU rolled this out, they saw immediate positive results with more students paying their bills on time. Over the past five years, this has remained consistent for the approximately 1,000 students who use the plan on an annual basis.

TouchNet Payment Plans have greatly improved payment operations for EMU as well. Not only can students set automated recurring payments, but TouchNet will send them reminders before money is taken out of accounts. These fully automated messages have cut back on staff work, allowing them to focus more on customer service.

Final thoughts

When EMU made the decision to go cashless, there were some who had doubts. However, the institutions that used to question the decision are now asking Hardcastle for advice on how to move in this direction after seeing the effectiveness of this strategy.

As the future of higher ed institutions approaches, EMU has put the concept to the test and come out better for it. By implementing TouchNet Payment Center and Marketplace, EMU has been able to succeed without cash payments, putting the institution at the forefront of cashless universities.