University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Implementation Journey with Nelnet Campus Commerce

Author: Nelnet Campus Commerce

In Brief:

  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee provides an affordable, world-class education to 23,000 students from 92 countries.

  • Challenge: After 19 years with their previous payment solutions vendor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) was ready for an upgrade. They wanted a partner who understood their need for user-friendly products and someone that could develop tools they had been wanting, but were unable to have developed.

  • Result: Nelnet Campus Commerce was able to build a relationship with UWM, by implementing updated payment platform and creating user-friendly and unique solutions they were seeking.

Insight type: Case Studies

Looking for a Partner, not another Vendor

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) was ready to make an upgrade to their institution’s payment solutions. After 19 years with their previous payment solutions vendor, and one who wouldn’t develop any of the tools they needed, UWM knew it was time for a change. They were looking for a company that not only offered the solutions they needed, like Payment Plans and Refunds, but one that could and would develop tools they wanted.

UWM was in contact with Nelnet Campus Commerce, and a partnership was starting to form. “I think one of the biggest pieces that brought us to Nelnet was how they were able to outline what they could offer compared to what we already had in place,” explained Cameron Stearns, Director of Student Accounts, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “In addition, the cost differentials were also outlined, so we were able to do more in a customer-centric environment than we were able to with our old partner.”

Another big motivator to make a switch was finding a solution which offered ACH refunds. UWM had been lacking a way to offer ACH refunds since 2019 after several failed launches from previous vendors. Nelnet’s ability to offer ACH refunds and implement it effectively was a very important piece of the puzzle and solidified UWM’s move to Nelnet. “Being able to successfully implement a refunds product that offered a nice user interface for the students and the staff alike, that was also logical and intuitive, was very important,” explained Stearns.

Making a Radical Departure

Nelnet offered several other features and products, along with refunds that interested UWM. They were impressed with Nelnet’s ability to apply school branding on their payment platform which allowed students to see the branding on all parts of the payment portal – a feature their last vendor was lacking. Additionally, Nelnet Payment Plans would replace their rigid, homegrown process with a solution that offered flexibility in installments. Though the improved features and products Nelnet was offering were most appealing, making a change in vendor after all this time was going to be a hard sell for some at the institution. “I think any implementation can be quite scary. We were partnered with our previous partner for almost 19 years, so it was a radical departure,” shared Stearns, “and that uncertainty really led to a lot of anxiety throughout our campus.”

 Leaving a vendor after almost two decades was no easy task. It took time to get some members on the UWM side onboard with the implementation. It was collectively demonstrated to them, by Nelnet and an internal UWM team that the direction they were going had a goal of improving the student experience. Staying focused on that goal encouraged more people to accept the move. “There’s a lot of entrenchment in higher ed and that’s a big hurdle to overcome; however, staying present and being supportive and demonstrating that presence by repeated meetings and making sure people feel heard and the stakeholders are engaged throughout the process was vital,” Stearns said.

Meeting Unique Technical Requirements

When it was time to go live, there were unique technical requirements needing to be met. For the Refunds solution, multi-factor authentication (MFA) was required, but was yet to be implemented on campus. Nelnet found a way to add this authentication to Refunds before it was present anywhere else on campus. Additionally, UWM did not have a process, prior to the implementation, to handle the passing back and forth of the candidate file for student refunds; this file contained sensitive student refund information. Nelnet connected them with a peer institution who had successfully implemented the Refunds solution with Nelnet and they were able to show UWM a clear path that led them to a secure process.

Appealing Solutions with Real Support

As the different products were being implemented, Nelnet provided training throughout the entire process. The UWM users were supplied with user guides and many training sessions. The Nelnet Project Management Team was there to give their support and answer any questions UWM had. “In the sessions, we were able to ask all kinds of questions as they related to how to use the products,” shared Stearns.  An added benefit was the on-going support Nelnet offers after implementation was complete. “Post-implementation support from a vendor was always something we were lacking and it was a differentiating factor when we chose to go with Nelnet,” explained Stearns. “It’s the ongoing support we find very valuable.”

Seeing the Efficiencies

UWM, like many other higher education intuitions, continue to work with a lean budget and limited staff. By partnering with Nelnet and implementing new payment solutions, UWM has been able to house all types of payments in one environment, rather than in multiple ones. This has added efficiency gains to their reporting and daily reconciliation, leaving time for other tasks.

From the Cashier’s Office, staff have been pleased with how students are adapting to using payment plans and how easy the transition has been to the new platform. Students and staff alike appreciate the payment automation, which has reduced phone calls and confusion, and how quickly staff can respond if there is an issue. “The impact Nelnet has made in my role within the Cashier’s Office has been tremendous,” said Pete Jankowski, Supervisor in the Cashier’s Office. “I’ve been able to be a resource for our students very quickly. If they ask questions, whether it’s about payments, refunds, and anything in between, I can get to the answer they’re asking fairly quickly, and that’s been a great thing for our office to keep things going with the amount of questions that we get. That’s a great place to be for us.”

On the user end of the solutions, students have seen an improvement in the intuitiveness of the system and the ability to view and make payments in a mobile format. “In this day and age when many people are going to be paying bills and reading emails on their cell phones, having the ability to offer a mobile format is a big advantage over what we were previously using,” explained Stearns. “Nelnet Campus Commerce has helped us improve the user experience for our students and just elevate that student experience overall. Now, it’s easier to pay through an environment that has UWM branding and multifactor authentication. This is what lends itself to a more secure environment and a better user experience.”