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A financial strategy for student success

Illinois Central College takes a complete approach to campus commerce with TouchNet
University Business, December 2017

 Financially, the student population of any community college is diverse. From new students to lifelong learners to professionals looking for new skills, each comes with different circumstances and expectations. Accommodating everyone is complex. It’s no secret that community colleges nationwide are continually working around budget cuts and staffing shortfalls. For Illinois Central College, rethinking its campus commerce strategy provided a roadmap to overcoming these challenges while still providing outstanding service and a learning environment focused on success for all.

Initially, ICC needed a system that provided a centralized view of all monetary transactions happening campuswide. However, as one of the largest community colleges in Illinois, business leaders knew they needed more than a payment portal. They needed a comprehensive commerce platform that could grow and change with them. TouchNet’s U.Commerce technology platform was the right choice.

“We needed flexibility and balance to meet and exceed the needs of our students,” says Beth McClain, Dean of Enrollment Management, who oversees enrollment, student accounting and financial aid. “Even in the business office, education is in our DNA, so we are teaching financial responsibility and understanding through active, real-time communication and training as it relates to our students’ financial relationships with us. If we aren’t preparing them for their next step we aren’t doing our job.”

U.Commerce gave ICC the flexibility, transparency and robust integration needed to offer and manage a whole host of student payment plans and options. One recent shift was the introduction of the TouchNet PayPath service fee program, a solution for sharing processing costs when payers choose to pay their tuition with a credit card. While most community colleges accept credit cards for tuition, according to a Creditcards.com 2016 survey, only 8 percent charge a convenience fee, compared to 93 percent of public universities.

To introduce PayPath and to make the transition as smooth as possible, ICC communicated early and often to ensure that staff and students were aware a change was coming. The resulting change was that ICC’s annual cost for convenience fees was cut in half within the first six months of launching the program, and as of the first three months of fiscal year 2018, the school’s fees are zero.

With PayPath in place, ICC expected ACH payments to increase, and they did, almost doubling. Check returns decreased as a proportion of all payments, an unintended and welcomed savings benefit. ICC took this implementation one step further with the introduction of a new access channel—mobile. 

“Students today don’t have home phones and PCs, they have smartphones,” McClain says. “It’s how they access information, shop, communicate and more.” 

Adding mobile access was a natural extension of ICC’s service-first approach. From no-cost payment plans to deferment plans to pre-collection plans, ICC meets students where they are, academically and financially. And with 50 to 60 percent of its students on some form of tuition assistance, it would be almost impossible for ICC to offer all of these tailored payment options without the TouchNet U.Commerce platform. U.Commerce gives business office staff and leaders visibility into their campus economy, automates processes and integrates disparate systems so staff and leaders have the time to do what they do best: support, help and set students up for success.

For more information, visit www.touchnet.com/ucommerce

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