Mark Turner: Creighton University is located in Omaha, Nebraska, and we’re one of 28 Jesuit universities in the country. We have about 7,400 students, and we’re a very diverse school. We have a lot of professional schools and colleges, and we’ve been ranked the No. 1 master’s university in the Midwest for each of the last 10 years.
Prior to our move to actively managed payment plans, we were using Nelnet’s QuikPay for e-payments and e-billing, which was a largely manual process. We considered it a personal service to our students and parents. We had what we considered a lot of users because quite frankly, it was a hand-generated task. So Linda spent a great majority of her time serving those students and parents.
Linda Bendorf: The No. 1 challenge for us was that QuikPay was not term-specific, so payments were not always being applied to the correct term. A good example of this: We would have payment plans that continued until May, but we would need to start our assessment of tuition and our billing for the summer term in late April or May. So a lot of the last payments in May or April might have been applied to a student’s summer tuition instead of the spring balance.
Some other challenges were a rise in demand for payment plans due to the increased cost of attendance, because more parents and students were finding they could not pay in a lump sum every semester; and we saw a desire for more of a self-service option for managing tuition payment plans. We also had a lot of concerns about security and compliance, and we needed to reduce our term receivables.
So we reached out to Nelnet. I contacted our customer relationship manager and initiated a business review of our current process, our desired goals and business solutions. She came back, suggested a solution and brought in the right team based on our business needs.
This managed payment plan system has been a significant improvement over our previous system.
Our planned deployment was for the fall of 2015. We knew we had to communicate this to our students and families, so we sent out two emails. In the first, we explained the details of why we were converting and when it would take place, and instructed them to print their past statements since these would not be passed into the new system. In the second email, we explained in greater detail about the new payment plan system and about setting up authorized parties in that new system. When our first e-bill went out, an email was sent to link the user to the enterprise to set up a payment plan or to make payments for that semester.
Overall, people liked the new system. They preferred the fresh look and the clean interface. Once they became familiar with where to find information and understood the new payment plan, most thought it was much easier to use than the old system.
Why did we go with Nelnet Business Solutions (NBS)?
- We have been using Nelnet’s QuikPay and cashiering system since 2006, so we knew that they were a trusted business partner and they understood our needs and goals.
- We’ve had an excellent working relationship, particularly from an IT standpoint.
- The NBS enterprise system offered a single point of entry for management of statements, payments and payment plans.
- Their system included real-time integration with Banner ERP.
- With the new system there would no longer be any per-billing statement transaction fees, so we can send statements more often.
- There was a lower application fee for the user.
What were the lessons we learned in the deployment and implementation process? Communications about the new process didn’t connect effectively enough with students and parents. Emails weren’t read thoroughly, and some went to spam folders. In general, people just don’t read everything that is sent to them. So our communication is still a work in progress.
Also, in terms of training our staff, we should have set up additional testing scenarios beforehand, but we just didn’t have the time to set up additional testing scenarios for training, so we did most of our training after we went live.
The two major issues that generated the most phone calls were that students were putting their parent email addresses into student profiles, which caused login problems for the parents once we set them up as an authorized party; and students were letting parents log in with their own personal passwords and IDs, which allowed parents to go in and change student profile details to their own. But NBS quickly solved these problems with a product enhancement.
What benefits have we seen? Our Creighton plan participation increased 43 percent this past year. Creighton still maintains control of our plans, and we can allow our parents and students to make changes. We can now pull balance comparison reports to review and focus specifically on accounts that are out of balance.
With the self-service component of the system, parents can see pending adjustments and can adjust the payment plans themselves. And with the collection of NSF fees, there has been an improvement with our delinquency rate—which is currently 2 percent, and which has been cut in half with the second reprocessing of those NSFs. Our payments are posted in Banner the same day, and then our funds are deposited into our bank account three days later, which has greatly assisted in our bank reconciliation.
Mark Turner: We’re pleased with the direction in which we’ve gone. We have made incremental adjustments. It might look like we stumbled into this and launched it fast; we did, but we had been talking about it previously. We just realized that if we wanted to make this happen for this year, we needed to do it in a couple months.
As Linda pointed out, the biggest lesson we learned was about the quality of our communications. We could have done better reaching out to students and parents—and we probably didn’t think through the internal training well enough. But overall, this managed payment plan system has been a significant improvement over our previous system