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Digital Enablement and Digital Payments for Higher Education


Digital payments options offer benefits to universities, students and families

The ability to offer seamless digital solutions is now a key factor for colleges and universities to attract and retain students. Developers, software providers and other enablers that offer robust solutions needed in the changing payments landscape can deliver critical value to these institutions of higher education.

Like many industries, higher education was forced to accelerate its digital transformation over the past few years. To continue meeting demands from students for personalized and frictionless experiences, universities need to expand their digital solutions and offer flexibility in payments, as well as modernize legacy systems.

“Most universities, even as little as five years ago, were often handling payments in a vacuum—for example, there’s payment to the bursar’s office for tuition, while a different provider may handle payments for athletic tickets and another for the university-owned bookstore,” observed David Dew, Head of Embedded Payment Relationships at Discover® Global Network. “If a university is not centralizing their payments, it’s complete chaos for all involved parties.”


Flexible payment options represent a critical offering for institutions 

College tuition and related expenses remain a significant financial burden on students and their families, and the pandemic added further uncertainty around how parents would contribute to their children’s education expenses. Offering multiple and flexible payment options to students and their families is one way that universities can ease some of the burden of high college costs.

Higher education institutions recognize the importance of offering flexible payment options for all students, especially international students. International students remain essential for the financial health of universities, as well as providing a cultural diversity and a broad education experience for students. Addressing and accommodating the financial concerns of the international student population can be an essential factor for attracting students from overseas. According to a study from Flywire, a digital payments solutions provider, nearly 80% of institutions indicated that flexible payment options were important or very important to attracting international students.1

Meanwhile, college students are expecting the same digital payments experiences on campus as they have with other transactions. In fact, according to a Sallie Mae report, a significant majority of college students (77%) use mobile payment methods, while 85% of college students carry a debit card and 56% use credit cards for a variety of transaction types. The main motivator for college students to select mobile payment options is convenience (70%), though security and ease of use are additional factors.2

Centralized payments, including automated payments, are also a critical factor in collecting university revenue. When payments and revenues are centralized into an integrated system, university bursars and treasurers have better data available for forecasting and reminding students and parents about tuition plans—together improving both the customer experience and university liquidity as a result.


Digital enablers help universities achieve a holistic digital payments experience

To deliver solutions that keep pace with technology, new system requirements and current demands from students and families, universities are increasingly turning to software providers and other digital enablers for fast and secure solutions. Along with payment flexibility, advanced solutions typically integrate revenue data with individual student accounts and support real-time communication for students and other payers.

“When universities utilize a digital enabler with multiple capabilities, it creates a more holistic and frictionless payments experience for their customers,” Dew said.

Given changes in the marketplace, the pressure on universities is growing to offer these seamless solutions. In particular, students are increasingly expecting to manage their lives through mobile phones, and universities are quickly seeking ways to adapt to the new environment. Furthermore, it’s critical for institutions to consider solutions that will help them maintain payment agility and flexibility in the wake of technology or requirements changes.


The right solutions partner is key to transform the payment experience

Before determining which solutions provider will best suit the needs of their campuses, universities should consider a number of key factors in their selections process. A good starting point is finding a strategic partner with the expertise and flexibility to provide customized services that can transform the payments experience for all users.

Assessing the risks associated with implementing any new technology is another consideration. Some critical concerns when implementing new technologies include understanding how current systems will be disrupted and how user experiences and interfaces will be affected. Solutions partners should be able to focus the timing of systems upgrades and other integrations to minimize disruptions.

Secure payment solutions are also vital to any digital payment option, particularly in today’s ever-evolving climate of cybersecurity risks. Look for solutions that have advanced security features built into the software’s foundation and throughout the development process.

Finally, the cost implications of any solution cannot be overlooked. It’s important for institutions to understand the costs involved with a new solution. Costs may range from necessary hardware or systems upgrades to the implementation of new payments solutions as well as the expenses for ongoing services.


Enablers bring the tools needed to provide expanded payments

The right software providers can help universities integrate advanced payments solutions and broaden acceptance directly into their in-house systems and tech stacks using advanced tools and APIs to layer solutions quickly and efficiently.

Discover® Global Network offers products and tools to support developers and other digital enablers. In addition, the company’s expertise in the education vertical allows it to offer insights and dedicated representatives for the sector.


Expanded payments can support and optimize the digital experience at universities

Today’s demands to connect and integrate the digital capabilities present throughout campus life make university digital solutions more critical than ever before. Offering flexible and centralized digital payments options is essential in meeting the demands of students and their families. An approach that allows students and families to engage with the university through their preferred method—or multiple methods—can help meet changing needs and trends.

Digital enablers and software providers play a key role in helping higher education institutions deliver secure and advanced payments solutions that help create optimal digital experiences for universities and their students.

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1 Flywire, 2020. “Save Overseas Studies: COVID-19’s impact on students, institutions, and the economy.”

2 Sallie Mae. “How American College Students Manage their Finances.”


The information provided herein is sponsored by Discover® Global Network. It is intended for informational purposes, and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice.