Payment plans, automation are helping Tennessee State meet the needs of its largest class ever

This is the first of a two-part series highlighting how Tennessee State University is innovating their financial processes to deliver better student financial experiences and outcomes.

Charmaine Daniels gets how important flexibility is in paying for higher education, both because she’s a practitioner and a parent. She’s spent the last 20 plus years working in student financial services at top universities, was a member of Ellucian’s customer advisory board and now manages Flywire’s deployment consulting team. She’s also a parent of college-aged children – her daughter is finishing up her freshman year.

“At orientation, the hands come up and the first question parents ask is, ‘what are payment options? What flexibility do we have?’,” said Daniels. “Flexibility in payment options is really important to parents and family.”

Daniels dug into how forward-thinking institutions like Tennessee State University are answering that question during a recent PDG speaking engagement, “Building the Bursar Office of the future: Leveraging technology to support student success.” Bucking the trend of declining enrollment that many colleges and universities in the U.S. are facing, the Nashville-based public institution and HBCU welcomed its largest and most diverse freshman class ever this past Fall. Including students from 20 different countries, the urgency to support many different payment needs as the new academic year started was real.

“We really needed to find a way to diversify our payment plan strategies – and meet our increased population where they were at,” said Capri Harston, who is the former Bursar at Tennessee State.

Where did Tennessee State start? Harston knew the first step toward providing more flexibility was having an infrastructure that could support it. She split the finance office into three distinct divisions – accounting, customer service and collections – with the cashiering division falling under that customer service umbrella. “We really have the ability now to hone in on our customer service,” she shared with the PDG audience.

Once changes were made to existing structures to make processes run better, many parts of those processes could then be automated to maximize staff time. Having implemented and worked with Flywire in prior roles, Harston knew the technology brought clarity and ease to complex student financial services processes.

Simple changes – such as offering an easy-to-understand view of account balances, clear steps to pay online and options to select a five-month payment plan – helped her staff a lot. They now spend less time relaying information about balances, and more time helping students find the best payment solution to address specific financial circumstances. Highly configurable to the specific payment plan needs of the university, Flywire’s Student Financial Software enables students to easily view balances, make payments, pay in full and cancel a payment plan all within an easy-to-use dashboard.

“I’m really excited to see how this is going to bolster our customer service,” Harston said. “Non-payment of student accounts is the number one reason students don’t continue with their education. With Flywire, we can offer more payment plans, provide flexibility and put it into a format that students can easily read and understand. It’s very clear what their financial obligations are.”

With a foundation for flexibility in place, interest-free, self-service payment plan options help Tennessee State students in three areas:

  • International students can use payment plans. Tennessee State students from 20 different countries needed flexible options too, and there was no payment plan functionality in place to support that. With Flywire, both domestic and international students now have access to the same payment plan options.
  • Families can plan budgets before tuition rates are posted. Tennessee State has implemented a budget-to-actual payment plan, which gives students time to create a budget for their next academic term and make payments against it before the tuition fees are posted. Once the tuition fees post, the plan automatically switches to actual and adjusts each balance to what each student owes
  • Students who fall behind on payments have real solutions. With the goal of preventing students from having accounts referred to collections agencies, Flywire’s software helps Tennessee State seamlessly work each account, set applicable students up with payment plans, and continue allowing students to progress on their educational journey without interruption. This ultimately keeps students enrolled.

Flywire’s Student Financial Software helps Tennessee State deliver payment experiences that meet different student financial needs, and equips staff with automated functionality to securely process payments.

It’s all working toward one very important goal: helping higher ed bring the student financial journey together with unified processes and functionality that doesn’t treat unique student financial situations as one-size-fits all. This also helps drive cross-campus collaboration, enabling departments to work more efficiently together for the common good of student success.

“We have to be partners with enrollment management folks to move the needle,” Daniels said. “Being able to retain a student so they’re not lost if they run into financial difficulties is a game changer.”

For more information on Flywire’s Student Financial Software: