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Preparing Your Campus for the Emerging Payment World

Adapting to meet changing needs and expectations
University Business, June 2017

Higher education institutions are constantly looking for ways to boost retention rates, especially among students struggling to meet increasing costs. Accepting payments from international students can also be challenging—from dealing with security issues associated with carrying cash to reconciling international wire transfers that may omit the recipient’s name. A cashless attitude is becoming the norm with payment plans, 529 plans and wire transfers being offered as alternatives to cash, checks or credit cards. Students living in a world of PayPal, Venmo and Starbucks prepay want the convenience of using their smartphones to conduct campus transactions.

Eileen Gazzuolo

Senior Director, Sales Support & Consulting

Blackboard Transact

For payments in general, it’s all about mobile wallets. Do you realize that it was less than three years ago that Apple was the only major mobile wallet on the market? Now even Starbucks has it, to the point where about 25 percent of its purchases are made through a mobile wallet, where a customer can order in advance and then pick it up. 

I travel quite a bit for my job, and I use that mobile wallet all the time. It is so convenient, because I don’t have to fumble in my purse for my credit card or look for any cash I might have on hand. I always have my phone in my pocket, and I’m able to pull that out.

In 2016, Americans moved $147 trillion in digital transactions alone. Worldwide, it was $583 trillion. It’s going to continue to grow as the digital explosion takes place.  In 2014, there were only about 3 million devices in use in the U.S. This is expected to grow to almost 28 million in 2021.

How do these trends relate to college and university payments? Your customers are consumers, so they’re coming to your campus with certain sets of expectations. Instantaneous gratification and convenience of payments is typically high on the list of many in this generation. As an administrator, however, you have a real juggling act ahead of you, because you need to have the ability to meet all of these expectations from a very diverse customer base while still being responsible for controlling the cost as well as adhering to the ever-growing number of regulations.

Karrol Leary

Director, Sales Support

Blackboard Transact

Let’s talk a little bit about the type of customers you have: students, staff and facult. How do we want to help these people make these payments?

You perhaps also have departments and student organizations that have their own POS system, and they have events or activities that they’re collecting funds for. What are the expectations for you as a university to accept those payments?

Customers can also come from the general campus community. It can be someone just walking onto your campus who is not affiliated as a student or a member of some other organization, and they’re just on your campus for something, and a situation arises where they may need to pay for something.

Eileen Gazzuolo: We’re classifying students in even greater detail than in the past, besides grads and undergrads. In the case of the public institutions, there are residents and nonresidents, international students, DREAMers, homeless students, different ethnic groups. Being able to satisfy the payment needs of a diverse group of students can often be a challenge.

Those international students present a special case for us. Many come on campus with lots of cash, which is not a very safe situation to be in. It’s very difficult for these students to obtain a checking account. They have the ability to use credit cards, but sometimes the costs are prohibitive for both the student and the university, because of additional fees to use that credit card internationally.

Karrol Leary: There’s a lot of overlap—what consumers want is not vastly different from what administrators want. It boils down to convenience.

Digital transfers of funds, whether done in person or digitally, needs to be safe and secure. Also, a lot of people want to make sure that what they’re doing is decreasing the carbon footprint. They want to have green or eco choices. It boils down to choices—giving choices to different types of people with different backgrounds.

On the administrator side, you definitely want to make sure that the payments being received are secure and safe, and that there’s a convenience to it. You don’t want to put up any barriers for people to make payments. Also, with the case of the university, there may actually be mandates from either their university system or from their state for green initiative mandates that they have to follow.

Additionally, all of these things should be done in a way that’s not going to increase your cost. You don’t want to add a lot of head count, and you don’t want to add a lot of unnecessary manual processes.

That brings us to the integration piece. Administrators want a payment to be integrated into a system not only to make it more seamless, or easy, for that student or customer to make that payment, but also for that payment to get charged or noted where it needs to be noted.

Eileen Gazzuolo: What are our recommendations? First of all, you know your customers best. You know the types of students you are serving. Your needs as a community college based in the Southwest may be completely different from a private research institute in the Northeast.

Consult with your banks and your vendors and the merchants that you use on your campus. It is their job to understand some of these trends and to be able to speak about them.

Make sure you have your proper reports in place so that if you do want to make a change, you have the documentation to back it up. Also make sure you have the reports on how your customers are paying. Are they starting to move toward very little cash on campus and instead paying online electronically? That may give you some of the impetus you need to make some changes to your operations.

Finally, listen to your customers. Listen to what they have to say, how they’re paying not only for their education, but in general. Remember, you’re a consumer too. How would you would like to pay?

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, visit

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