eCommerce is making tuition payment more convenient for students
and parents, while saving schools valuable time and resources.
IN THE ERA OF DEBIT CARDS and
online bills, paying college tuition with an
old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness handwritten
check is quickly becoming yesterday’s
news. The name of the game these
days is electronic payment. This technology
enables students or parents to immediately
pay for tuition directly from a credit card or
checking account over the internet, without
ever having to pick up a pen. It’s quick. It’s
painless. What’s more, it can save schools
valuable time and resources processing
Striving for Efficiencies
Take Pennsylvania State University.
There, students had spent years asking for
convenient ways to pay for tuition, outreach
programs, sports camps, and more. To
meet this demand, the school recently set
out to implement an advanced credit card
payment solution that could integrate with
its existing IBM Web-
Sphere system. The solution would need to
accommodate the various requirements of more than 100
departments. And equally important to Penn State officials:
They needed a solution that wouldn’t break the bank.
A standard request for proposals (RFP) process led
school administrators to PPI PayMover from integrated payment
processing solution provider Payment Processing. The system, simple software that sits on
a dedicated server behind the scenes, changed everything
virtually overnight. By enabling students to pay online, the
system eliminated manual processing, making payments
faster, easier, and less of a cost center for the school. PPI
PayMover also lowered processing fees, since departments
could negotiate rates collectively.
Aaron Hofelt, an eCommerce consultant with the
school’s Information Technology Services department,
says there have been other benefits, as well—namely benefits
to the school’s smart card program. As a result of the
PPI PayMover software, the school now offers parents an
online payment gateway to easily deposit money on their
child’s card. Students can use the smart card to purchase
books, meals, event tickets, and incidentals on campus.
The cards are also accepted by more than 140 merchants
in the surrounding town of State College, PA. “The integration
has allowed us to offer an unbelievable level of convenience
to parents and students,” says Hofelt, who adds that
the school handles between 1,000 and 2,000 transactions
a day, and the number of transactions has risen steadily
since the electronic payment program began in the late
1990s. “It’s also allowed us to become quicker and better
at handling payments, which certainly never hurts.”
Marketing a Winner
Ohio University has also experienced the benefits of ePayments.
In the spring of 2005, the school converted its
paper bills to the eBill system from CashNet. The new system allows for online payment via credit
card or electronic check. Once the switch was made, however,
Ohio officials had no idea how to get the word out to
students and their parents, to encourage them to try it out.
Administrators struggled for weeks to figure out a strategy.
Then, it hit them: Advertise during orientation.
Last year, Bursar Sherry Downs teamed up with Assistant
Bursars Carole Gilkey and Kimberly Trout to spread the
word. The trio hit Ohio’s annual pre-college program and
talked to parents and students about managing finances at
school. They explained the billing cycle, reviewed payment
deadlines, and outlined accepted methods of payment.
They also created a short tutorial on the school’s payment
venues—in particular, the CashNet system.
The response was overwhelming. The bulk of last year’s
incoming freshman class attended the pre-college program
during the last week of July and first two weeks of August,
and Downs says she spoke to more than 250 families every
day. This year, members from the Bursar’s office manned
portable kiosks at the event and assisted students in
accessing their student information via the university portal.
Downs’ crew also showed students and parents how to view
bills and make payments. As a result of these efforts, awareness
of Ohio’s ePayment capabilities is much improved. “A lot
of parents come up to me and their only question is, ‘Now I
can do this all online, right?’” says Downs. “When I say, ‘Yes,’
their response is, ‘Good!’ and they walk away.”
eCommerce: What’s New, What’s Next
WE SPOKE WITH John McElroy, a business development
manager for TouchNet Information Systems,
about the future of ePayment technology, and the changes and
challenges schools will face. McElroy is an accredited ACH
(automated clearing house) professional (AAP), and brings five
years of TouchNet experience and 15 years of electronic payment
background to the development of key TouchNet campus commerce
What’s the latest in ePayment technology on campus? There are
two payment topics prevalent on campuses today. First, campuses
are now offering “PINless” debit transactions, in which consumers
can use their ATM cards for web-initiated payments without entering
a personal identification number [PIN]. The cost of processing payments
through debit networks [such as Star, Nyce, and Pulse] is
lower than through credit networks [such as Visa and MasterCard],
and PINless debit offers the same fast settlement time as PIN debit
transactions. The second topic is data security. Many schools don’t
yet appreciate how much change they will face if they are accepting
ePayments on campus.
What’s driving changes in data security? Obviously, there is a
desire to protect sensitive payment information in order to satisfy
industry and government regulations. There are more levels of control
and review today than ever before. The issues of data security
are more public, and the expectations for colleges and universities
are greater. And industry requirements are growing more stringent
What d'es the future hold for payment security? The Payment
Card Industry [PCI] Data Security Standard, a set of requirements
developed by the PCI Security Standards Council [an independent
body formed jointly by several major credit card companies], will continue to expand and incorporate
all systems that touch ePayment transactions. This expansion
includes a new set of Payment Applications Best Practices [currently
voluntary guidelines for software vendors to create secure payment
applications]. These developing guidelines will coincide with more
rigorous audits and reviews from multiple levels, including system
and state audits, for all campus merchants. Most campuses will
move quickly to consolidate ePayments into one secure, controlled
What can schools do now? Institutions should learn about their
growing responsibilities, investigate recent changes to the industry’s
compliance priorities, and turn to experts for advice and assistance.
Industry conferences are also a great place to learn about key
campus commerce compliance issues: For instance, TouchNet’s seventh
biennial users conference, COMTEC 2006, will be held Nov. 12-15 in Kansas City, MO.
Managing Security Threats
Down the road, as more colleges and universities embrace
ePayments, the biggest issue will be security. Already,
schools deploying electronic payment solutions have had
to redouble their efforts to protect site security and prevent
credit card fraud and identity theft. As hackers become
more sophisticated, these threats will only escalate.
According to the Federal Trade Commission,
payment providers should encourage customers to follow
all of the following guidelines:
- Use a secure browser.
- Read and understand the refund policies.
- Keep personal information private.
- Keep records of online transactions.
- Review monthly credit card and bank statements.
For more information about how to secure ePayment
technology, visit click here.