7 minute read

Preparing for a New Year of Payments with Director of Client Success, Kala Mulder

4/11/2023 7:00 PM

About this time each year, there is a mad scramble for a couple reasons. First, most of our clients are about a month out from the end of their standard academic year. But more importantly, in the world of student finance this is the time when many institutions are getting ready for the next academic year and the next big round of student payments.

Each new academic year presents opportunities to improve the student experience. With that in mind, we caught up with our Director of Client Success, Kala Mulder, to ask her thoughts on how institutions can best prepare for a new year of student payments.

1. What should I be doing to prepare for next year’s student payments?

KALA: We always recommend starting with the student in mind, and reviewing the student payment experience across your institution. Revisit the student journey (for new and returning students) from applying for admission to registration and enrollment to housing and meal plans to campus services such as parking, libraries, and the recreation center.

Make a checklist of any items that need to be updated before the next term. Update fee structures, changes to systems or processes, and more. This ensures that students don’t run into any hiccups as they start making payments for the upcoming year.

Plus, if you are struggling with reconciling transactions from multiple sources, try consolidating campuswide payments through one solution. The more transactions are completed through a centralized, integrated payments solution, the better for students and staff. Students become comfortable with the checkout experience, and staff reap the benefits of simpler reconciliation.

2. How can we reduce the FAQs we receive from students?

KALA: As you review the student payment journey, be sure to ask your team which questions they most often receive from students and authorized users. If you find you are getting the same questions repeatedly about certain payment options or balance totals, there may be configurations you can apply to change what the user sees in their Student Account Center.

In TouchNet Bill+Payment, administrators can tailor what information the students see to best fit their institution, such as itemized charges instead of by category. Additionally, payment configurations can be adjusted to give students flexible options like paying by term versus the total balance due.

Last, we recommend reviewing your communications strategy for student finance items. In many situations, you can set up automated notifications and emails to remind students when a payment is due and provide easy instructions on how to pay.

3. Are there new payment methods to consider?

KALA: While payment methods don’t change drastically year-over-year, it never hurts to check with your payment solution provider to see if new options are available – especially if it’s been a couple years since you last reviewed your payment methods.

At TouchNet, we regularly evaluate emerging payment methods to determine what we should include as options within our payment solutions, including international payment options. Double check the payment methods in the backend of your payments platform to ensure all the available options are turned on (assuming you want to accept all types).

Additionally, TouchNet works with TransferMate to offer a fully embedded solution that enables international students to initiate payments in their local currency directly in their Student Account Center. It’s available for no extra cost, easy to turn on, and provides the most competitive and real-time exchange rates for students.

4. Are there ways our payments technology can help support financial literacy amongst students?

KALA: For many students, attending university or college is the first time they will truly manage their own finances. This obviously comes with inherent challenges and learning curves. And the education of students doesn’t just happen in the classroom.

You can support financial literacy among students by transparently communicating the student’s financial obligations and the institution’s refund policy. TouchNet Consent Manager allows institutions to present their financial responsibility agreements and other important policies to students as they review their account balance at the start of each semester, as well as require students to acknowledge they have received and agree to those policies.

Additionally, within TouchNet, you can also provide your students with the opportunity to protect their investment in higher education with tuition insurance from GradGuard. After students review and acknowledge the financial responsibility agreement and refund policy for your institution, they are presented with the option to purchase a low-cost insurance policy that can provide reimbursement should they have to withdraw due to a covered medical reason. This encourages students to read and understand their financial commitments and the value of having a safety net.

5. What about helping students avoid debt? What can we do to help?

KALA: Today’s higher education students are more wary of taking on debt to pay for higher education, especially as inflation causes costs across the board to rise. One way institutions are helping students avoid taking loans is by offering tuition payment plans.

As you get ready for next year, now is a great time to implement payment plans (if you haven’t already) or revisit your existing payment plan options for next term. With TouchNet Payment Plans you have the flexibility to create multiple payment plan options and designate who qualifies based on student characteristics. You might have a 3-month and 4-month plan that is available for anyone. But maybe it makes more sense to offer a special payment plan for military students or a 12-month plan for unique graduate programs. The point is the flexibility is there to help you serve your students best interest.

6. What areas of student payments are easy to overlook, but can greatly improve the overall experience?

KALA: A few other areas that we recommend taking a few minutes to review are simple, but it is good to make sure they are on point.

  1. Provide students with easy instructions on how to set up their payment profiles and establish how they wish to receive any refunds or disbursements. This can be included in existing communications, on your website, or maybe it’s worth scheduling an automated notification to remind students to set up their profile at the start of each term. This prevents students from having questions and becoming frustrated later when they aren’t sure where/when they should expect their refund to come through.
  2. Audit campuswide Marketplace stores and remove any outdated pages as necessary. As students come in for a new year and start to purchase supplies, swag, tickets, and more online, make sure they are seeing the most up-to-date departments and stores.
  3. Review your branding and images within your payment solution. With TouchNet you are able to tailor the colors and branding to match your institution’s visual identity. You probably did this during implementation, but have you reviewed it since then? If not, take a peek to make sure there’s nothing that needs to be updated. Providing a consistent appearance across a student’s digital journey instills confidence they are in the right place.

7. Any final advice to higher ed business office leaders?

KALA: The most important thing to focus on is the student experience and places they might get stuck along the way in terms of their financial and engagement activities on campus. The more you can reduce or eliminate barriers to students paying their tuition and fees, the more students will be set up for success in their educational journey.

Lastly, we’re here to help. While there are many opportunities to improve student finance, focusing on one area at a time can help you make improvements over time without overwhelming your team. If these recommendations resonate with you, give us a call. Our client success managers are more than happy to help you update your features to best service your students.

Interested in talking with one of our experts on these topics? Contact us here!