The High Cost of Paper Money

Business Office, Macomb Community College
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Picture two overworked accounting clerks, their desks completely covered in paper register receipts, and an accounts payable manager who needs a wheeled hand cart to deliver 5,000 paper checks to the mail room for distribution to students so they could buy books for classes. This is what the business office at Macomb Community College (Mich.) looked like prior to 2008, before the start of classes, says Bobbie Remias, director of finance and investments. Employees were nearly completely consumed with check processing, on top of answering the rush of incoming calls before the start of the semester.

As at many campuses, the challenge was providing a means for Macomb’s 12,000 financial aid and sponsored students to purchase books in the bookstore prior to the start of classes. That had meant issuing paper checks?only 80 percent of which were used promptly for the intended purpose. The remaining 20 percent were lost, stolen, misused, or never cashed, creating more work for the business office, which had to pay $20 stop payment on the original check and issue a replacement. Paper receipts were sent to accounts receivable to be input for billing on all the sponsored students. The process was paper-intensive and rife with human error.

Remias and the financial aid director, Judy Florian, began investigating how to link the Datatel Colleague system and bookstore. At the Datatel Users’ Group conference, they heard about Trim Data’s FA-Link module. “It was the perfect solution,” says Remias, and took only a few months to implement. Connecting the Datatel Colleague system with the Follett bookstore’s point-of-sale system made it possible for students to access available bookstore funds electronically and have the charges immediately applied against the student’s account using pending financial aid or sponsor funds.

Macomb students have the convenience of immediate access to funds for books before the start of classes

In addition to eliminating the need for printing checks and then manually inputting charges from receipts sent over by the bookstore, the automated process saves the business office more than 100 hours per term, estimates Remias. The time financial services staff used to spend processing and accounting for checks can now be invested in higher value work on behalf of Macomb’s students. Macomb students have the convenience of immediate access to funds for books before the start of classes. The students no longer have to wait for the processing and mailing of checks. Financial aid student traffic has doubled at the campus bookstore in the two years that this process has been in place.

Implementing Trim Data’s module cost the college an annual fee of around $30,000 and, by the end of year one, it was paying for itself with reduced labor costs, says Remias. Perhaps more important, however, is that the reallocation of manpower has made it possible for the business office “to handle a lot of student growth without adding staff,” adds Remias, “as well as providing better service to our students.” ?Marcia Layton Turner