Case studies

College of Charleston takes a platform approach to improve service and help staff

Higher education administrators face a common dilemma.

In the face of resource constraints and siloed departments, how does a campus improve processes and provide service as efficiently and smoothly as possible? And can the improvements benefit everyone involved, including students, parents and authorized users, campus visitors, as well as staff?

The College of Charleston strives to provide service that fits the specific needs of its community. The campus serves a diverse population that includes more than residential students, such as study abroad students in different time zones, local residents taking non-credit courses, and countless conferences, concerts, and events that bring visitors to campus year-round.

Managing the payments for this array of activities is complex, especially when the payment points are disconnected from the business office. The College of Charleston knew that breaking down silos across campus by integrating and simplifying payment and administrative processes into one efficient system was essential to providing great service. It would also greatly help the staff do their jobs and better protect the institution through improved PCI compliance.

Connecting solutions and systems

To improve service for everyone on campus and streamline work for staff, the College of Charleston adopted a platform approach with TouchNet, an approach that integrates solutions and campuswide systems to simplify the processes enabled by them. The college implemented multiple TouchNet solutions to better share data, improve security and compliance, and significantly reduce the burden of account reconciliation.

International payments add a layer of complexity for any campus. By moving to TouchNet payment processing, the college’s reconciliation of international payments was streamlined, accuracy improved, and payments posted automatically to the general ledger. It also resolved the confusions that often occur with international payments, like verifying the payor’s identity and currency conversion.

With Payment Plans, a component of TouchNet Bill+Payment, the institution offers six tuition installment plans, a service appreciated by students for the financial flexibility it offers. Charleston now sees drastically fewer unpaid accounts at the end of each semester, fewer write-offs, and simplified accounting.

TouchNet’s PayPath service allows Charleston to offer the convenience of debit and credit card payments for tuition and other qualified services without the expense of merchant fees. Since implementing the solution in 2010, Charleston has saved almost $1 million in merchant fees, savings the institution has passed on to students through lower tuition.

Marketplace facilitates a range of payments occurring across the campus from merchants and other service providers, simplifying the payments and accounting of everything from summer camps to concerts. Students and campus visitors enjoy a convenient, consistent commerce experience, while staff enjoy the ease of setting up and running storefronts for their department or office’s goods, services, and events. Administrators benefit from centralized accounting and simplified PCI compliance.

In addition, the College of Charleston implemented a policy that all campus vendors must be TouchNet Ready Partners. This validates each vendor to accept payments through TouchNet solutions and provides a centralized, secure, and compliant commerce environment. Departments and clubs can select a provider from more than 250 existing TouchNet Ready Partners or request a new vendor be added by following the steps to join the TouchNet Partner Network. Implementing this policy has helped Charleston funnel all payments securely within U.Commerce, eased the implementation of new campus service providers, streamlined business operations, and simplified PCI compliance.

We need to make it easy for students to pay and make it easy for the staff to reconcile. And to make services always available, we had to automate processes, which is why I like to call TouchNet the cashier that never sleeps.

— David Katz Treasurer at College of Charleston

Reinforcing connections

Taking a platform approach to simplifying the business of the campus did not happen overnight. Instead, Charleston worked hard to ensure a great fit between new technology and existing systems. Staff were consulted to understand their needs as well as potential stumbling blocks. Based on this feedback, adjustments were made to optimize campus systems, TouchNet solutions, and the connections between them.

“Don't just implement a solution and don't just test it,” says David Katz, treasurer at the College of Charleston, “map out the entire process of what you expect it to do, because just putting a solution in doesn't resolve all your challenges. If you put something in and you didn't think about how A affects B and how B affects C, you're not going to have a good solution.”

The solutions’ effectiveness is furthered by continual training that follows a ‘train the trainer’ model and the use of the TouchNet test environment for practice and development. Yearly process reviews and PCI compliance sessions also keep the staff’s knowledge current, provide forums for discussion and collaboration on improvements, and generate annual revisions to policy and procedure manuals.

Training staff to train their colleagues has multiple benefits to the college. For the staff, becoming trainers breeds a sense of ownership and expertise that empowers them, and the training sessions forge relationships that are crucial to cross-campus collaboration. For the institution, training helps the solutions and staff work together to their fullest and best extent. And, as a result, students and campus visitors receive service that continuously improves.

Better service

Implemented, tested, and refined, Charleston’s system and TouchNet solutions work together to simplify the recurring, complex, and time-consuming tasks that must be performed well to provide great service to students, parents, and campus visitors.

All transactions across campus are posted to the general ledger, no longer scattered and collected piecemeal, saving staff time and increasing financial accuracy. Security risks and annual PCI reporting requirements are reduced, too, since all transactions are in the same, single PCI compliant system.

Data is unified, centralized and shared, which breaks down department silos and provides staff with an accurate and updated ‘single source of truth’ when working on student accounts and advising a student or parent.

Staff also take advantage of simplified and automated processes for communication, saving the time it takes to pull and verify lists of students and their authorized users, and create and send tailored messages to each group.

With solutions and systems integrated, and many processes streamlined if not automated, the College of Charleston has connected their campus and improved service for students and workload for staff.

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