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A tedious two-week refund process gets cut to one day at a California college

At Antelope Valley College, a new approach to issuing financial aid refunds becomes an instant success for administrators and students

Until last January, issuing financial aid refunds at Antelope Valley College was a long, tedious process. Instruction files were sent from the school to a remote district office, which printed checks and sent them back to the school to be stuffed into envelopes and mailed to students.

It was a time-consuming and costly procedure, explained Sherrie Padilla, director of financial aid at the community college, located in Lancaster, Calif. “We needed to investigate other ways to disburse refunds to students,” she said.

The need to find an alternate way of issuing financial aid refunds was growing urgent. Antelope Valley College, like many colleges in California, is experiencing significant enrollment growth. In addition, since early 2009 AVC has experienced a 45 percent increase in financial aid applications. The combined effect of these two trends has led to a sharp increase in the number of refunds that have to be processed each semester.

In considering their options, college officials quickly determined that running an internal ACH program was not feasible due to staffing restrictions. AVC explored using a student loan company to issue its refunds, but ultimately decided it was better if the same company did not handle both student loans and refunds. The school was also looking for a partnership for refund distribution where students would not be exposed to credit-bearing products.

After additional research, the college selected Higher One’s OneDisburse? Refund Management? program. “It was the smoothest implementation process I have ever been through,” stated Padilla. “There was a Higher One representative with us from the beginning until the end, keeping us on track.”

AVC students were sent a co-branded debit card in the mail and directed to log onto Higher One’s secure website to validate the card and select an option for receiving refunds: direct deposit to a OneAccount, a no-minimum-balance, no-monthly-fee, FDICinsured checking account provided by Higher One; an electronic transfer to a bank account of their choice; or a traditional paper check. Students who select the OneAccount option can use their Debit MasterCard? for retail purchases and to withdraw cash at no cost at an on-campus ATM maintained by Higher One.

Higher One helped promote the new system with a marketing and education campaign that included banners hung on campus and information posted on the AVC student portal.

AVC used Higher One’s OneDisburse Refund Management system for the first time in January 2009, and administrators have already noticed a positive impact. Prior to the adoption of OneDisburse, AVC was distributing 100 percent of refunds via paper check. Of the 7,700 refunds it has distributed through Higher One, 92 percent were issued electronically, almost all of which were direct deposited into student OneAccounts. Based on an internal study, AVC administrators anticipate saving an estimated $25,000 annually with the new refund system.

AVC now issues refunds more frequently and can get them out faster than planned. Students and staff are pleased with the program and have acclimated to it well.

“The process is so seamless that it is like nothing has even changed,” said Padilla. “I think it has been wonderful. Higher One is always there if we need something. They have been really good at being responsive to our needs and the needs of our students.”