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Communication with many campuses is key to success

Higher One's electronic refund program adds convenience for Troy University's diverse student body, and improves employee morale

The decision-makers at Troy University knew that issuing refunds electronically would make the process more efficient, especially for a university with 35,000 students studying at more than 60 campuses. But it also had an unexpected benefit.

“It has improved the morale of the Student Financial Services employees due to the drastic decrease in student complaints and the pressures of meeting a firm deadline with overtime,” says Jim Bookout, vice chancellor of financial affairs.

"Most student and parent concerns about the program evaporate once it is explained to them."

Troy University began using the Higher One OneDisburse Refund Management system in early 2007 for students in the U.S. and on military bases around the world.

Each student receives a Trojan One- Card and activates it by choosing a refund delivery option. In the first year, 90 percent elected to receive refunds electronically, 78 percent opting to have their money deposited into a free OneAccount checking account and 12 percent receiving electronic direct deposits into other accounts. Students with a OneAccount can use their Trojan OneCard as a Debit MasterCard for purchases or at an ATM. About 10 percent still receive paper checks by mail, a slower and less efficient process.

The shift to OneDisburse Refund Management has dramatically improved the experience for both students and the administration. “Long student lines were encountered, and staff time was devoted to issue several thousand refund checks each semester,” Bookout says. “There were frequent requests from students that Troy University should provide refund methods that more quickly gave them their money. Also, many payments were lost in the mail or went to old student addresses.”

Implementation of the Higher One One-Card, Bookout says, “drastically improved all these issues.”

The refund process begins in Troy University’s mainframe system. A data file is created that identifies each student with his or her individual refund, and this file is transmitted to Higher One. In addition, a wire transfer is sent to Higher One with the funds needed to disburse the refunds. Once Higher One receives both the file and the bank wire, the company verifies that the amounts from both transmissions agree. As soon as this control process has occurred, Higher One immediately begins disbursing student refunds based on the delivery method each student has chosen.

“The refund using the Higher One card takes no more than one day,” Bookout says. “The ACH takes a couple of days, while the paper check usually takes five to seven days to reach the student.”

A key to the success of the program was the ability to effectively communicate details to students attending the school’s network of campuses. In addition to its four campuses in Alabama, Troy University has branch campuses in 14 other U.S. states and 13 countries. Troy also has a long history of serving military students and operates on more than 30 military bases in the U.S. and around the world.

The university communicated details of the program via e-mail, and held an orientation session, known as IMPACT, to communicate important features.

“The Higher One marketing plan outlined flexible and well-timed phases which were molded to fit the diversity of Troy University,” Bookout says. “Most student and parent concerns about the program evaporate once it is explained to them.”

Troy University’s overall experience with Higher One has been excellent for students, the administration and parents, Bookout says.

“The longer the Higher One system is in place, the more positive it becomes for Troy University,” he says. “This program has been a huge success.”