4 minute read

Building an Integrated Student Payments Experience with George Washington University

1/31/2023 8:00 PM

In this episode of FOCUS, Jen O’Quinn from George Washington University (GW) shares her experience in building an integrated student payments experience that puts student support first. O’Quinn is the Student Accounts Director at GW where she dedicates her time to finding the best solutions to fit students’ financial needs. The university is a robust user of TouchNet, and together they ensure that implemented processes and systems work together to best support students. O’Quinn gives insight into GW’s priorities for an integrated student experience, payment plans, what’s on the horizon for their payments process, and advice for other higher ed institutions looking to enrich their payments experience.

The integrated student experience

GW is a four-year private institution in the heart of Washington, D.C., with 27,000 students spread across ten schools. O’Quinn’s goal in her role is to support all students as best she can by developing a strategy to build an integrated student experience. GW uses Ellucian Banner integrated with TouchNet Payment Center to manage statements, payments, refunds, and 1090-T forms. When looking at ways to enhance students’ payment experience, GW wanted students to be able to access every financial service they need from their account in one place — from payment plans to tuition protection, refunds, and more.

“Our goal is to get the students what they need as early as possible and as concisely as possible because they’re there for academics, they’re not there to learn GW systems. So, our goal is to be as easy as possible,” says O’Quinn.

Student-focused payment plans

When deciding what was important to the payments experience, GW wanted to create payment plans that worked for varying student needs. The university had previously implemented one five-month payment plan that had five installments in the fall and spring, and a three-month plan over the summer. This ended up with one month of overlap, which they quickly learned was not going to work because of the impact on reporting for next fall semester’s enrollment and financial aid. Additionally, GW offered tailored administrative plans built specifically for students with unique needs.

To combat the issues with the one payment plan and its effects on the university’s enrollment process, GW expanded its payment plans to include four-month, three-month, and targeted plans for undergraduate and graduate students and eliminated the five-month plan. Term balances are now more streamlined and automatically adjusted for students who add or drop courses. If students re-enroll for the upcoming semester with missed payments, they are able to use those balances as a down payment on their next enrollment. This encourages students to stay on top of their bills and sign up for classes early so they can space their payments out as much as possible. O’Quinn says GW just started a late enrollment plan for students who might not have received as much aid as they expected and need a last-minute plan.

GW has been able to implement Consent Manager through TouchNet to efficiently handle financial responsibility and refund policy agreements for students to sign. The university is looking forward to the upcoming functionality with implemented TouchNet solutions in terms of delinquency reports, holds placements, automated and targeted deposits, and better communication with students when issues with their payments arise.

The future of the payments center

O’Quinn shares that the university now offers health insurance to eligible student populations, which they can easily see and manage in the payments center. They have also just started offering tuition protection plans using GradGuard, a solution that allows students to protect their investment in their tuition should they need to withdraw from school due to a medical reason. Since GradGuard is integrated with TouchNet, students have the option to add tuition insurance directly in their payment center and GW has fewer manual processes to manage, while making sure students are being taken care of.

Reducing manual processes is one of the university’s goals for the future — with GW opting for on-demand statements that reduce calls to action for students to request an itemized statement within the payments center. They are still sending monthly invoices to protect the school from student notification issues. The integration with ECSI for 1098-T forms has also lessened the manual workload.

O’Quinn says the school is pushing for more ACH refunds to cut down the number of paper checks being sent, with a successful adoption rate of 80%. They are working on implementing direct-to-debit refunds after an increase in debit card refund requests. GW hopes that these refund changes will help with the reconciliation of uncashed checks.

How other institutions can become integrated

O’Quinn imparts some final words of advice for other institutions as they look at ways to enhance student payments experiences. The first is to always look for what is best for the student. Although it might create more administrative work, it’s worth it to be able to support students in ways that truly benefit them. Then look at other areas of student finance that can be more efficient or automated, that way there is more time to dedicate to helping students. Partnering with the right provider will help the process of building integrated student payment experiences exponentially easier for both students and the institution.