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College Gains Peace of Mind While Students Receive Faster Refunds

Advantages of partnering over building pay off as a pioneering college eliminates risks associated with e-refunds

Blinn College has been in the business of educating students since 1883, a point of pride for its administrators. Even as it honors its pioneering roots, the college also has evolved to meet the needs of students. Founded initially to train young men for the ministry, Blinn became the first county-owned junior college in Texas and one of the largest of the state’s 50 community/junior college districts.

Striving always to improve the way it serves students, in 2008 Blinn administrators adopted the Higher One OneDisburse? Refund Management? System. The college wanted to get tuition refunds in students’ hands more quickly, eliminate the headaches associated with printing and mailing thousands of checks, and avoid the risk of compromising sensitive information for the small percentage of students who had funds direct deposited into their bank accounts.

"We did them, I guess you could say, the old-fashioned way," says Jeff Cermin, the college's associate director of business services. "You can imagine that when you get 5,000 checks at once, that kind of creates havoc."

"I don't have to worry about being in compliance. I know we are in compliance."

There were many other challenges besides the disruption to the operations of the small accounts payable department, Cermin says. "You had bad addresses, you had checks come back, you had checks get lost in the mail, you had somebody who wasn’t supposed to get a check get the check ? It was never-ending."

In considering options, the college decided to seek a vendor rather than developing an in-house system for electronic refunds. For a former banker like Cermin, the reasons were obvious.


"I have 17 years banking experience, and part of that was in the compliance field," he says. "We are not a bank. I don’t have time to keep up with the regulations. And with the red flag of identify theft - we don’t want to be in the position to have to prove that we are providing a standard of care that may be changing for good reason. We want to protect our students, and we wanted somebody that had the expertise to do that for us."

Blinn College administrators take comfort knowing that Higher One’s staff includes what Cermin describes as "legal eagles" to keep abreast of complex and ever-changing financial aid and privacy regulations.

"It is peace of mind," he says. "I don’t have to worry about being in compliance. I know we are in compliance. Higher One does that for us."

With the OneDisburse system, college administrators credit the accounts of students who are due refunds and send a wire with the information to Higher One, which issues the refunds. Higher One deposits funds electronically - either into a no minimum balance, no monthly fee, FDIC-insured OneAccount with a linked MasterCard debit card or into another bank account. The company also mails checks to students who elect that option.

The college signed the contract in May 2008, and the program was up and running for the fall semester. One year later, in the fall 2009, some 90 percent of refunds were issued electronically - the vast majority into OneAccounts.

"We wanted a system that would basically take us out of the check-issuing business," Cermin says. "We wanted to make sure that kids would get their money on a timely basis."

Higher One also met other requirements: a strong student focus that included excellent communication tools, responsive customer service and a strong Web presence.

"One of the things that really impressed us about Higher One is that refunds are their only business, and they do it well," he says. "I’m 110% satisfied."

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