Actively managed payment plans reduce administrative requirements, streamline processes, and improve security and visibility. These plans also support student success by increasing affordability, access and convenience. In this web seminar, a panel of campus leaders discussed how actively managed payment plans have helped their institutions increase enrollment and retention, improve institutional cash flow and business office efficiencies, and enhance the student experience. Presenters also highlighted how these efforts contributed to their institutions’ missions, and some key strategies for implementing these plans at any institution.
- Don Grauer, Regional Director with Nelnet Campus Commerce
- Erin Wheet, Senior Associate Director, University of Illinois System
- Chris Cordella, Director of Operations/Bursar, Boston College
- Amy Berry, Associate Director, Student Accounts, Bryn Mawr College
Don Grauer: What opportunities and/or challenges were you facing that led you to look for an actively managed payment plan solution for your campus?
Chris Cordella: We used a stand-alone company to manage our payment plans prior to 2013. With that came many common problems. The payment plans always lingered behind, students had to go to a separate website to sign up, and payments were made to a company outside of Nelnet Campus Commerce. If students had multiple payment sources, it was very disjointed for them and parents. We were starting to see a leveling or even a reduction in participation, and that was mainly due to the ineffectiveness of the budgeting process and the disconnect with the bill.
Erin Wheet: When looking for a new solution in 2008, we had only tried the ERP payment plan, and that was clunky—it wasn’t truly a payment plan. We needed to make it easier for people to pay and more affordable. We do not assess tuition and fees until about three weeks from school starting. Students were not aware of how much they would actually owe and how much aid they were going to get, so we had a lot of late drops.
Amy Berry: We want to have full integration for an improved student experience. Our students expect seamless servicing between billing and financial aid. Having everything housed in one portal was necessary for them. We wanted to make reconciliations easier for the accounting office and to reduce the manual work in managing payment plans. We’re a small staff, and like many schools, we’re asked to do more with less.
Don Grauer: How has the addition of actively managed payment plans helped your institution achieve its goals and objectives?
Chris Cordella: Since we switched to Nelnet Campus Commerce in 2013, we have seen increases of almost 79 percent in participation and 73 percent in payment plan payments. That has allowed our vice president of finance to better manage our cash flow. For my staff, the most significant stat was a 40 percent reduction in the number of phone calls related to payment plans, because now the bill is integrated with their payment plans. And now over 90 percent of students sign up again for the same payment plan the following year.
Erin Wheet: The actively managed plans have helped us reach our goals and become more flexible in our payment options. With students able to spread their payments over a longer period of time, they can see this as a more affordable option and are staying in school because of it. They also incur less debt because they can see what they owe and start paying earlier, and they’re avoiding late fees. And because of the payment plan, we allow them to register for the next semester without being paid in full, so we have far fewer students dropping off.
Amy Berry: Allowing payment over five months supports our enrollment goals by making the cost feel more affordable to parents. We’ve also worked with families to look at loan debt versus doing a payment plan, which reduces overall debt. When students look to come here as freshmen, it just gives us more tools to work with them to say, “You know, this can be affordable for you. Here are some options.”
It’s been an efficient process through the off-site plan management. Students can call the Nelnet Campus Commerce team with questions, especially about returned payments. And providing marketing materials for outreach to students and families has been a huge time saver. We know we’re communicating with both the students and their parents, so that’s been a great tool.