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U Rhode Island Moves Toward Paperless Student Refunds

The University of Rhode Island (URI) has partnered with Higher One, a financial services and payment company, to provide a new student service that will eliminate tuition refund and similar checks and replace them with electronic deposits made to a student-directed bank account.

The Higher One service will eliminate the printing, processing, and mailing of about 20,000 U Rhode Island refund checks a year and provide students with quicker access to their funds. The university has agreed to pay Higher One a small transaction fee, which, according to the company, is less than the cost of a stamp, 44 cents. However, the new service is anticipated to save the university more throughout the year in costs associated with postage, mail, envelopes, and check stock.

"The traditional process we have been using is cumbersome, time‐consuming, and certainly not very 'green'. Our controller's office has issued checks daily during the first two months of each semester and twice per week during all others. In today's economic climate, and with the technology now available, we want our students to have access to their refunds as soon as possible," said Robert Weygand, vice president for administration. "With Higher One, we'll be able to provide better service to our students, while reducing the associated operating costs at the same time. This is the new digital version of refund management at URI."

The university, which has 16,000 students, sought a new way to manage these transactions, and the State of Rhode Island issued a request for proposals in October 2008 on its behalf. Six months later, a contract with Higher One, based in New Haven, CT, was finalized.

Starting with the summer orientation sessions for incoming freshman and continuing with mailings to all undergraduate and graduate students, all students at the university will receive their individualized "URI Refund Card." The university will then be able to disburse any refund that is due to a student's account.

The URI Refund Card will allow each student to log onto a secure Web site to confirm a primary e-mail address and mailing address and specify how they'd like to receive a financial aid refund due from the university.

Students are given two electronic methods to choose from for receiving refunds. Refunds can either be direct deposited to their OneAccount, a no-monthly-fee, FDIC‐insured checking account provided by Higher One or be sent via automatic clearinghouse to a bank account of their choice.

With the Higher One service, students will be able to use a feature that works like a "mobile alert" that will notify them when funds are deposited into their debit account.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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