Stepping It Up
Cash flow is as important to nonprofits as it is to corporate entities. That’s something officials at Salisbury University in Maryland had in mind when they engaged outside help several years ago to provide students with online payment gateways, tuition payment plans and electronic bills.
The steps resulted in increased efficiencies and more timely payment. But with enrollment up a third over the last decade—and no increase in accounts receivable staffing—officials knew it was time to take the next step.
For example, even with online capabilities, the old system couldn’t log electronic payments right away, causing students to call staff to inquire whether tuition had been received. And refunds from the state had to go to Salisbury before they were sent to students.
“We knew that we could do better,” says Tony Pasquariello, the university’s comptroller.
Salisbury launched a competitive procurement process in early 2013 and selected Higher One to extend the efficiencies of its prior enhancements. The new system allows real-time posting of online payments to student accounts the next business day, reducing the number of phone inquiries about account postings. And because the postings are displayed as soon as they’re made, duplicate payments by students have dropped.
Higher One also handles all student refunds, whether they’re made electronically or via paper check. This has eliminated lines of students waiting at the university cashier’s office.
The solution has freed up an additional five to 10 hours a week for accounts receivable staff and 40 hours of cashier’s office staff. “We’re hoping that we can use that time to be more proactive,” says Pasquariello.
The next step in the project is to transition to electronic bills for all students, with paper bills phased out entirely by May of this year. “Right now, it’s manually intensive at least two times during the year—when we send out fall bills in July and when we send out spring bills in December,” says Tabitha Pilchard, director of billing and accounts receivable. “We have to look for folks who can stuff bills over a two- or three-day period.”
Through electronic billing, Salisbury anticipates saving approximately 100 personnel hours and $15,000 in postage and paper annually. It also looks forward to providing more timely customer service, since staff won’t be spending time filling envelopes with paperwork.
“Our copy center prints all the bills, and our university post office has to come over and get them and get them sent out,” Pilchard says. “ It’ll save them time as well. “We need to be more efficient, and this certainly helps,” she says.