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Putting refunds into student hands quickly and safely

With Higher One, State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota streamlined student refunds and ended problems with lost checks.

Issuing refunds from financial aid and tuition overpayments to students used to be a time-consuming and labor-intensive affair at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (SCF), just as it is at many colleges and universities. Inefficiency was only part of the problem. Students moved often, and checks were regularly late or lost.

“We ended up with a lot of checks that came back or complaints from students that they didn’t receive their check or that someone had stolen it from their mailbox,” says Karen A. Kester, CPA, finance director for the college, which serves 9,912 students at locations in Bradenton, Venice and Lakewood Ranch. “We wanted a safer, quicker method to get refunds to our students.”

"We are definitely more efficient, and have a safer mode to get the money in the hands of students more quickly."

The college said goodbye to disbursement headaches in July 2006, when it enrolled in the Higher One OneDisburse Refund Management program to issue refunds for students. Today, 82 percent of SCF students receive their refunds electronically. With EasyRefunds, student refunds are deposited directly into a free OneAccount checking account. And students can access their money easily by using a Debit MasterCard, drawing cash at ATMs or writing checks. Alternatively, students can opt to have their refunds deposited directly to any bank account they choose. Higher One handles it all.

“We had huge batches of checks to print and sort and mail, and we don’t do any of that anymore,” Kester says. “We are definitely more efficient, and have a safer mode to get the money in the hands of students more quickly.”

Now, the bursar’s office sends an electronic file to Higher One and follows it with a wire transfer of funds. The college receives e-mail notification of ever y step, from receipt of the electronic file to the disbursement of funds.

This year, SCF is preparing to expand the use of the OneCard to also serve as a school ID card. Kester says the college plans to add more features, allowing the card to be used, for example, as a stored-value card that could be used in vending machines and copy machines on campus. So far, more than 9,200 students have used the cards since the college began issuing them, and Kester expects that students who have a good experience with it will continue using their card after they graduate.

Kester emphasizes that the high quality of service that Higher One provides made implementation easy. The company, started in New Haven, Conn., in 2000 by three students at Yale University, is keenly in tune with student and university issues.

“For as young as they are, they are really organized. They set up the structure, and they are right there beside you,” she says. “When we make a suggestion, they consider it and act on it. The company has been fabulous to work with.”

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