As we reflect upon the 2022-2023 academic year, we would be remiss not to mention today’s students continue to face acute challenges that directly and indirectly affect their “college experience.” While the world has moved on from the pandemic, pressures from the economy—including the rising cost of college and how families will pay for it—weigh on the minds of current and prospective students. These issues present new challenges for institutions to overcome in providing the optimal student experience.
Within the fourth annual Student Financial Experience Report, we believe you will find evidence that the future of higher education is positive. Why? Because, at the end of the day, the best student experience results from two things that a college or university has within its control: trust and simplicity. If institutions can earn students’ trust in multiple ways—including secure handling of their financial affairs—students will be more apt to stay in school, graduate, and report having a good experience. Similarly, if institutions can make as much of the “college experience” as simple as possible, students will recognize, if not praise, those efforts.
The intent of this report remains to observe, document, analyze and present the financial experience of higher ed students as it exists. Subsequently, with four years of data, trends are becoming more clear and identifiable. Trust and simplicity have become increasingly important to students as they rely more and more on digital payments and mobile technology. This year we dive deeper, validate some assumptions and reveal how a continuing investment in technology solutions will pay off.
Students increasingly trust mobile payment technology
Since 2020, students are slowly but steadily increasing their trust in alternative payment methods (APMs) like Venmo, PayPal, Google Pay and Apple Pay. More students than ever before agree that making payments through APMs are secure. At the same time, they show a decreased level of fear that someone might gain access to their payment apps.
Nevertheless, security remains an essential feature students expect in a payment app. For three consecutive years, it has ranked the second most important feature, behind ease of use.
Students want “how they pay” to be easy
Consistently, students have wanted the way they make payments to be as easy as possible. Three of the top five features students say they expect in a payment app in the past three years have all been related to ensuring the experience is simple: ease of use, easily available, and available in a mobile wallet.
Because of their ease of use and portability, students increasingly prefer to use their smartphone to make payments. Today, 84% of students use their smartphone to make payments and 95% use at least one app to interact with their institution. Over the last three years, this survey has shown a 30% decrease in the number of students using their desktop or laptop computers to make payments, highlighting this shift to mobile.
Students want digital payments and mobile banking
Year over year, we dig into how students are using and want to use apps for payments and mobile banking. The use of digital payments, specifically via Venmo, PayPal, Apple Pay and Google Pay, continues to rise. In 2021, 86% of students made at least one digital payment using these platforms. By 2023, that figure increased to 93%.
Mobile banking is following a similar trend with 81% of students reporting they use it to make deposits, an increase of eight percent in 2023, while visiting a branch in person fell about the same. Even more indicative of the shift toward digital finance is the decline from 11% to seven percent of students writing checks in 2023.
No slowing the move to mobile
As highlighted when discussing the need for simplicity and its positive impact to the student experience, the use of desktops and laptops to make payments has fallen sharply. In a single year, smartphone use leapt ahead of desktop/laptop in popularity after having been even in previous years.
With the increased use of mobile phones has come an increase in mobile wallet use, particularly Apple Pay, which surged from the fifth to third most popular payment method for everyday things. Now nearly half of all students are using Apple Pay. It jumped nearly 70% year over year from 2022 to 2023.
The increase in Apple Pay usage extends to transactions made on college campuses as well. Apple Pay popularity for online purchases made through an institution tripled from three percent in 2022 to nine percent in 2023. In campus stores, Apple Pay saw a 700% increase in use over three years, replacing cash as the second most popular in-person payment method.
Student expectations vs. student actions
Students continue to level up their financial game by reporting the most important features in a college app are the ability to check/update finances and make/manage payments. Equally important and reported year over year is the need for a streamlined, all-in-one app.
However, what students say they expect from a campus app doesn’t always align with how they use the app. While more than two-thirds of students consistently indicated they expect to be able to make and manage payments from their school’s app, less than one third actually did. Therefore, there continues to be an opportunity to inform and educate students of the features and functionality available.
About the Report
The Student Financial Experience Report is the result of an annual survey conducted by TouchNet. Since 2020, we have surveyed 300 university and college students each year from a variety of large and small public and private institutions. Respondents represent a cross section of undergraduate students, with a mean age of 20.6 years. TouchNet analyzes the annual results to help inform the direction of our solutions as we work to simplify the business of higher education.
The complete fourth annual Student Financial Experience Report sponsored by TouchNet includes trends from the past four years as well as at-a-glance insights into student preferences for a variety of digital payment solutions. Compiled from student responses across a broad spectrum of institution sizes and types, the Student Financial Experience Report 2023 provides information that will help you meet students’ needs today and in years to come.
Learn about last year's survey results and download a copy at the 2022 Student Financial Experience Report page.