Relay Graduate School of Education

In Brief:

  • Relay Graduate School of Education is a non-traditional, multi-state institution that serves 3,500 students, all of whom are active teachers.

  • Challenge: The Director of Financial Business Solutions at Relay Graduate School of Education wanted two things: the number of students who can pay their bills without debt or hardship to be as high as possible and the number of technical inquiries for the bursar and financial aid team to be as low as possible.

  • Result: Nelnet Campus Commerce implemented Actively Managed Payment Plans in spring 2019 and Past Due Payment Plans later that fall. Since implementing these payment plans, requests to the business office have drastically reduced, over 340 plans have been initiated, and the institution has received almost a million dollars in outstanding tuition.

Insight type: Case Studies

Keeping Students Enrolled by Eliminating Tuition Payment Stress

Rachel Hamberg had two goals in her previous role as Director of Financial Business Solutions at Relay Graduate School of Education, a non-traditional, multi-state institution that serves 3,500 students, all of whom are active teachers: She wanted the number of students who can pay their bills without debt or hardship to be as high as possible, and she wanted the number of technical inquiries for the bursar and financial aid team to be as low as possible.

For years, the school’s in-house system for interest-free payment plans, which offer an affordable alternative to loans for students who can’t pay full tuition up front by breaking costs into monthly installments, helped with the first goal but not the second.

“The [previous] system wasn’t easy for students to use— there was no transparency, no easy way to make changes, no options,” shared Hamberg. “It created a ton of work for our team.”

Things improved when the school implemented an automated third-party system in 2015. But the benefits to students and Hamberg’s staff went to another level a few years ago, when the school rolled out Actively Managed Payment Plans from Nelnet Campus Commerce.

“Thanks to the plans easy-to-use self-service platform, student participation and satisfaction have gone up while technical inquiries have dropped significantly,” says Hamberg. “It has been a phenomenal success for us.”

Payment plans have evolved at Relay GSE

When Hamberg started there 2013, they were a much smaller institution, with fewer campuses and fewer students. Their payment plan process was in-house, paper-driven, and extremely bulky. In 2015, they moved over to Tuition Management Systems (TMS), with great success. When Nelnet acquired TMS, they became the first institution to migrate over, rolling out Active Management Payment Plans in spring of 2019. This was a fantastic move for them as it offered a lot of reporting capabilities, and it interacted seamlessly with Jenzabar, their student system.

There are a lot more options for paying than they could ever offer as a school alone. A student can log in and see what their bill is and if it is manageable. If it’s not, they have options. Students can do an ACH transfer; they can use different credit cards; they can split up payments and assign charges to their grandmother or their aunt or their best friend’s cousin—that’s all possible without the school getting involved. It really allows students to do some cash management and planning for themselves.

The importance of robust security

Relay GSE chose to go with Nelnet in part because they don’t see any of their student’s sensitive information, including not even the last four digits of student’s social security numbers. Everything gets passed through secure files and the school no longer cut checks for refunds for students. All of this happens through Nelnet. To date they have never had a student inform them of any security breaches, as there are lots of checks and balances put into place, and all data is stored off site.

Payment Plans have helped with student enrollment

Most of the students at Relay GSE are either career changers or straight out of undergrad and just starting their first teaching jobs. Having the opportunity to break down the tuition cost month-by-month with different ways to pay has been very helpful. If students choose to take out a loan, they can lower the loan amount so they aren’t overwhelmed with debt in the future. A payment plan allows them to put together a puzzle that works for them. Relay GSE works to keep their tuition down and their students’ stress levels low so they can stay enrolled and concentrate on learning to be the best teachers they can be.

Nelnet customized a payment plan to meet the needs of Relay GSE

There are endless options for setting up terms and due dates and for assigning what items require administrative approval and what don’t. From deciding if you want to let students adjust or terminate their payment plans on their own, to what to do if a student’s credit card is declined, to how things are displayed, Nelnet can customize it all. For Relay GSE, Nelnet created a system that felt like a Relay GSE experience through the Nelnet portal.

This has been a true partnership from the very beginning. When COVID happened, their Nelnet rep called and asked what they could do to help their students. “The first thing they did, without us even asking, was suspended all payment plan late fees. When I asked if we could add one or two payment date options even though it was late in the term, they did it. They did their best to accommodate our every request,” explained Hamberg.

Past Due Payment Plans used to help students stay out of collections

For Relay GSE, the Past Due Payment Plans option is used for students who have withdrawn for whatever reason, but still have a balance with them. This is the student’s opportunity to settle up prior to going to collections. This gives them up to 12 months to pay off their balance with all the same options available on the Actively Managed Plan. It gives the school one place where they can see what is going on with all of their non-active students’ balances.

Seeing positive results through Past Due Payment Plans

For Relay GSE, this category had remained a hard-to-manage paper system for far too long. When they implemented Past Due Payment Plans in November of 2019, they didn’t really know what to expect. In their experience, when somebody had withdrawn from school, it’s very hard to recover the funds.

In the less than two years since they started offering Past Due Plans, 340 plans have been initiated. They’ve received over $690,000, and that doesn’t include students prompted to assign Relay their AmeriCorps awards. Those funds put the total closer to a million dollars.

“I’m very happy to have the funds, but the greater success is that we are not sending any of these young professionals to collections. Their credit isn’t impacted, it’s not going to make it difficult for them to get a mortgage in five years. Looking at it holistically, this plan has been wildly successful for us, and for our students!” said Hamberg.