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Use of electronic payments is growing quickly at Heartland Community College

Sue Gilpin is the Controller at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill. The college has been using Higher One's OneDisburse refund management system for over a year and will soon expand its use because of the implementation of a new student loan program. Ms. Gilpin recently spoke with Streamlined about Heartland's experience with Higher One.

We have about 5,000 credit students who are here for their Associates Degree or taking vocational classes. We also have about 5,000 community education students who are just taking classes for enjoyment or personal enrichment.

About a year. When we issue financial aid money to students, those are considered refunds. The award is applied to their student account here at the college and it pays off any tuition that they owe. What’s left is a refund. We issue all our financial aid monies through Higher One.

"We're not having to void checks, reissue paper checks, all the busy work that happens with checks and with a clientele like students."

Yes. We will be offering a federal student loan program in the fall of 2008, so we are expecting an increase in the volume of refunds that we will be issuing to students. We wanted to come up with a more efficient way of administering disbursements. We know the old-fashioned way of dealing with paper checks is very expensive and time consuming. They get lost in the mail, they get destroyed accidentally. So we’re going to expand our use of Higher One’s electronic disbursement system when we implement this new loan program.

All new students are mailed a Heartland OneCard at the beginning of the semester. On the front of the card it says Heartland Community College and our logo and the student’s name and ID number are on the card. When the students receive the card, they log onto a site and select a refund preference. They can activate a Higher One checking account and use that card as a debit MasterCard. The second option is they can have their money direct deposited into an existing bank account.

We are going to stop offering students the option of getting paper checks through Higher One. We really don’t feel like a paper check is as secure as something that is electronic. That’s the method that we think is best for our students. Most of them have had a debit card in their hands since they were teenagers. We have a very small number of students, typically non-traditional students, who say they don’t want electronic deposits. For those students, we will cut them a paper check from here at the college. But they are the exception. In practice, virtually all our students will be getting refunds electronically.

That’s correct. We’ll send a file to them with the student’s name and ID number and the amount of the refund. With that information, Higher One processes a refund to our students in the method the student selected. Higher One then manages the rest of the process. If a student has a problem with their refund, the resolution is between the student and Higher One and we’re removed from it.

We’re not having to void checks, reissue paper checks, all the busy work that happens with checks and with a clientele like students. Our students live in apartments and dorms and it can be difficult to get them things by mail. They’re not careful about keeping their addresses updated. For students, paper checks really do get lost in the mail.

Their rollout of the program is structured quite well. It came with a binder and you have phone meetings every couple of days to get this done in about six weeks. We had a person from Higher One come out here one day for a meeting but the rest was all done over the phone or Internet. They’re great at implementation.

It’s called One Support and it has been exceptional. They answer the phone right away and take care of your issue. And our students have found the same kind of support. Their calls are answered; you don’t have to worry if it will be a few hours before you hear back from someone.