Like any large community college, Blinn College in Texas processes and tracks thousands of student bills each semester. With over 19,300 registered students spread over 4 campuses, Blinn takes in tens of millions of dollars in tuition payments every year. “With so many students, billing get complicated,” says Jeff Cermin, executive director of business services at Blinn. To improve the billing process, since 2002 Blinn has partnered with Nelnet Business Solutions to offer e-payment options to its students.
This fall Blinn launched a beta test of Nelnet’s Enterprise eBilling & ePayment system, a platform that unites all the college’s financial management products and services in one user experience. The platform—known as BucPay, named after the college mascot of the Buccaneers—“offers students more flexibility in how they pay their bills, while streamlining the process for administrators on the accounts receivable side,” says Cermin. Nelnet allows Blinn students to access BucPay through their MyBlinn student account, where they create a profile to view and pay all of their bills in one place. “It’s a one-stop solution for all students’ billing needs,” says Cermin. One of the main advantages of BucPay is its partial payments option.
“With our previous system, students had to pay their full balance all at once,” explains Cermin. Students were forced to pay their bill—which could include parking tickets, library fees or bills for upcoming semesters—in one sitting. “With BucPay, students can apply their payment to a specific charge or semester,” Cermin says. The system also allows students to register other users who can submit partial payments of bills. “Students can now register their parents or relatives as contributors to split the burden of tuition,” explains Cermin. “Many families here share the cost of tuition, and this is going to be a big help to them.” BucPay also sends e-bills to alert students and other authorized payers to unpaid balances. “Before, it was up to students to log in and check their bill,” says Cermin. With BucPay, students are reminded automatically to pay their balance. “Now students can’t say, ‘You didn’t tell me.’ We make sure everyone’s on the same page.”
Rolling out BucPay took just six weeks. The college’s IT staff set up a test site and ran different payment scenarios to get a feel for the system. Cermin also led training for Blinn’s student services staff to get them up to speed. For students struggling to adjust to the new system, Nelnet offers a built-in live-chat feature, and Cermin ran additional training with Blinn’s call-center workers to help students troubleshoot. Since the system allows administrators to toggle to a student-view of the site, Blinn staff can easily walk students through the process on the phone. “We’ve set up a pretty comprehensive support system to make sure that students and staff transition smoothly,” says Cermin.
Cermin wondered at first if the partial payment option in BucPay might encourage students to fall behind on their bills. “But so far, students are actually beginning to make payments earlier, because they don’t have to foot the whole bill at once,” he says. He’s also getting positive feedback from parents. “The parents I’ve spoken with love it,” he says. Given the success of BucPay, Blinn plans to expand the system to integrate Blinn’s long-term payment plan option over the next year. “It’s a good product and it does what we need it to do.”
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