Information Technology, Office of Student Financial Services, and Finance and Accounting, Houston Community College

Streamlining Payments
Honoree: 
Houston Community College

Community college students are more likely to have extra demands on their time and attention, from jobs to family commitments. Anything colleges can do to relieve administrative burdens means more time that students can concentrate on their studies. At Houston Community College, the Information Technology office teamed with the Office of Student Financial Services and the Finance and Accounting office to move to paperless cashiering.

Prior to 2008, students had to submit a three-page payment plan form to the Bursar’s office, which created a lot of work for them, as well as staff members, who then had to manually review and key in the data, as well as issue payments and receipts to students. Storage issues and PCI compliance were also concerns.

In fall 2008, campus leaders implemented Higher One’s myPayment Plan, which integrates directly with HCC’s PeopleSoft registration system. “We’re an inner city college and students were complaining about the payment plans,” says William Carter, vice chancellor of Information Technology, adding that the system allows the institution to accept five or six payments. In addition to the students having a wider variety of payment options, since Higher One is processing the payments, the college no longer has to worry about PCI compliance. The combination of more payment methods and lower payments spread out over a longer time has eased the payment burden on students, resulting in improved access, retention and completion rates, Carter says.

With many of the transactions taking place online, lines at the Bursar’s Office have been reduced, allowing staff to deal with more complicated student issues. Security has also improved since there are no longer large amounts of cash or checks on campus, which has resulted in cost savings from no longer needing courier services or Brinks truck pick-ups, as well.

HCC staff saw a 68 percent increase in payment plans from fall 2007 to fall 2008. Since implementation, HCC has processed 111,172 payment plans (a 10 percent growth) for a return on efficiency of $1,667,580 in handling costs, Carter reports. “The process has saved $80,646 in supplies or 330,930 sheets of paper, 27.6 toner cartridges, 9.2 printer drums, and 40 trees.”
Bills and receipts no longer have to be sent out, either. “When you start thinking about 100,000 times the cost of a stamp and handling the paper and mailing it’s a huge, huge savings,” he notes.

While the classic line is that community colleges do more with less, Carter says the new paperless payment system allows HSS “to do a lot more with the same.”