5 minute read

Optimizing Your Payment Solution to Work for Your Students

11/14/2023 8:00 PM

Many higher education administrators are called to their positions for the same reason: to help students succeed. Lisa Mazure, Associate Vice Chancellor for Finance and Fiscal Services at Alamo Colleges District, joins this episode of FOCUS to share her experiences with supporting students while keeping accounts receivable and revenue flow healthy. Listen to hear her journey of improving account services at different institutions, leading to an increase in student success and financial literacy.

Lansing Community College

Mazure joined Lansing Community College (LCC) as the institution’s Controller after 25 years working for the government in the Office of the Auditor General. One of the first things she noticed in her role at Lansing was the disjointed experience for students interacting with the Student Finance Office for payments and refunds. Students were forced to log into multiple systems to manage different functions. From that point, she sought to consolidate the system down to one unified platform to make it easier for students.

In her search for solutions, the benefits of TouchNet became clear. The college already used TouchNet for accepting online payments, but learned it could be expanded to also offer payment plans, refunds, and much more through a single solution. This allowed LCC to reduce the number of systems that staff had to be trained on, improve the student and staff experience by managing everything in one place, and provide streamlined reporting and updated student accounts.

Payment plans

Once Mazure’s mission to simplify student finances was complete, she turned her attention to creating payment plans that accelerated student success.

“My goal is always for my students to be able to balance that financial responsibility with their academic success,” said Mazure.

One of the first plans the college implemented was bi-weekly payment plans, which remains popular with students because it spreads payments out in a way that matches up with paychecks rather than one lump sum each month.

LCC also added specialized payment plans for past-due balances. Each plan is specific to a student’s account balance and the repayment agreement they have with the institution. Students on this plan have the opportunity to have their balances forgiven if they complete a certain number of credit hours and meet other Student Finance Office requirements.

Students on financial aid that didn’t cover their full balance were given a payment plan that started later in the semester, after their financial aid was fully rewarded. This made it easier on students to pay correct balances after the add/drop course period concluded. Veterans, students in the Adult Resource Center, those with childcare scholarships, and other special cases were also given additional payment plan options. Adding plans for these unique situations gave students more financial freedom, helping them be more successful on campus.

Alamo Colleges District

The Alamo Colleges District is a system of five independently accredited colleges with over 69,000 students across Bexar County in southern Texas. The district is home to an HBCU and all five are Hispanic serving institutions. Since Mazure joined the district, the system has been dealing with a large accounts receivable balance stemming from conditions during the pandemic, in which the colleges avoided putting holds on student accounts.

She and her team are actively exploring solutions for reengaging students with past due balances and starting the process of placing holds again. It is important for Mazure and the system to find the balance between financial responsibility and academic achievement.

Like Lansing Community College, the Alamo Colleges District uses TouchNet solutions for student finance needs, but has not used the tools to their full potential. Mazure has been working to incorporate as many TouchNet solutions as possible to create immediate changes that help students.

Balancing accounts receivable

The first change the district implemented was separating out past-due balances from current payment plans, so the financial office could work with students to address each balance on its own. Before then, payments made to current statements were automatically applied to past-due balances, making it difficult for students to stay up-to-date on current charges. Mazure’s approach is that students should have the opportunity to take care of past due balances independent of payment plans for current terms.

The Alamo Colleges District has now expanded their payment plan options to give students more flexibility to choose a plan that is right for them, leading to increases in payment plan enrollments and healthier accounts receivable balances while helping students meet their goals.

To further address outstanding past-due balances, the district has classified them into different buckets. Depending on how old the balance is, it might be forgiven. In other instances, students may be directly contacted with the option to enroll in a specialized repayment plan, as mentioned before. The hope is that fewer students will be affected when the District decides to reimplement holds since they will have had the opportunity to resolve past due balances. These efforts tie back to the district’s goal of eliminating poverty through education and have an overall positive effect on students and their finances.

Maximize change at your institution

Getting the most out of your enterprise-level solutions doesn’t have to be as daunting as it may seem. For Mazure, getting buy-in from staff and other leadership at Alamo Colleges District early in the process made all the difference. They have been able to work together to establish what the institution calls WIGs (wild improvement goals) to stay on strategy as they move forward. The IT department has also been integral in the process because they know the most about the existing TouchNet system and what was possible.

As far as communicating with students about upcoming changes, payment plans, overall student financial literacy, and the Business Office’s role in their success, the district has incorporated student financial services into the orientation process. This sets a foundation with students from the moment they step foot on campus that the student finance office is there to help. This coaches students and let's them know they have a stake in their education, not just on the academic side, but also when it comes to finances. Keeping all this in mind helps the student finance office move towards the final goal: helping students succeed financially, so they can succeed academically.