Case studies

A financial strategy for student success

Illinois Central College is one of the state's largest community colleges, with four campuses serving 15,000 students. Their TouchNet solutions include Bill+Payment, Payment Plans, eRefunds, PayPath, and Marketplace.

Financially, the student population of any community college is diverse. From new students to life-long learners to professionals looking for new skills, each comes with different circumstances and expectations. Accommodating everyone is complex, to say the least. And it’s no secret that community colleges nationwide are continually working around budget cuts and staffing shortfalls. For Illinois Central College (ICC), rethinking their campus commerce strategy provided a roadmap to overcoming these challenges while still providing outstanding service and a learning environment focused on success for all.

Initially, ICC needed a system that provided a centralized view of all monetary transactions happening campuswide. However, as one of the largest and leading community colleges in Illinois, business leaders knew they needed more than a payment portal. They needed a comprehensive commerce platform that could grow and change with them. TouchNet’s U.Commerce technology platform was the right choice.

“We needed flexibility and balance to meet and exceed the needs of our students,” said Beth McClain, Dean of Enrollment Management, who oversees enrollment, student accounting and financial aid. “Even in the business office, education is in our DNA, so we are teaching financial responsibility and understanding through active, real-time communication and training as it relates to our students’ financial relationship with us. If we aren’t preparing them for their next step we aren’t doing our job.”

Over and above the unified view of cash and payment handling across campus, U.Commerce gave ICC the flexibility, transparency, and robust integration needed to offer and manage a whole host of student payment plans and options. One recent shift was the introduction of the TouchNet PayPath service fee program, a solution for sharing processing costs when payers choose to pay their tuition with a credit card. While most accept tuition payments by credit card, according to a 2016 survey, only 8% of community colleges charge a convenience fee as compared to their public university counterparts where that number is 93 percent.

To introduce PayPath and to make the transition as smooth as possible, ICC communicated early and often to ensure that staff and students were aware a change was coming. The reaction for the most part was neutral and expected, according to McClain. “We offer many payment options; credit cards are just one. Convenience fees are a cost of doing business. Students understand this.” However, the results were anything but expected. ICC’s annual cost for convenience fees was cut in half within the first six months of launching the program, and as of the first three months of fiscal year 2018, the school’s fees are zero.

With PayPath in place, ICC expected ACH payments to increase, and they did, almost doubling. However, check return decreased as a proportion of all payments, an unintended and welcomed benefit. “Our savings are and will be exponential,” added McClain. “We save money by reducing our fees and time by not having to process and handle returns, which is incredible.”

Why stop there? ICC took this implementation one step further with the introduction of a new access channel mobile. Community colleges sometimes fear going too high-tech but McClain has a different perspective. “Students today don’t have home phones and PCs, they have smartphones. That’s their computer, and it’s how they access information, shop, communicate, and more.”

Adding mobile access was a natural extension of ICC’s service-first approach. From no-cost payment plans to deferment plans to pre-collection plans, ICC meets students where they are,academically and financially. And with 50-60% of their students on some form of tuition assistance, it would be almost impossible for ICC to offer all of these tailored payment options without the TouchNet U.Commerce platform. U.Commerce gives business office staff and leaders’ visibility into their campus economy, automates processes, and integrates disparate systems so they have the time to do what they do best support, help and set students up for success.