State schools on path to paperless

Faith Moldan

Faith Moldan

The days of waiting in line to pay tuition are coming to a close for SDSU students.

A year and a half ago in August 2004, the South Dakota Board of Regents endorsed the plan for the e-commerce program and approved the new third-party vendor, Infinite, in June 2005. SDSU signed a contract with Infinite a month later.

Spring and summer terms of 2006 will use both paper and electronic bills, with the fall term completely electronic.

“We didn’t have easy decisions,” said Larry Youngren, an accountant and internal auditor for SDSU.

One of the issues that drove SDSU to look for a new third-party vendor and make the switch to e-commerce was that, over time, more bills are being paid by debit card-20 percent to be exact at SDSU. The switch does not mean that credit and debit cards will no longer be accepted.

“We could not afford not to accept credit cards,” Youngren said.

Though it may be convenient for students to pay their bills using debit or credit cards, the South Dakota Board of Regents and university must pay fees charged by these companies. The Board of Regents paid $500,000 in fees, and SDSU paid $145,076. With the e-commerce program, credit card fees are shifted to the card user and not the university.

“It’s getting to a point where we have to control costs,” Youngren said.

VISA will no longer be accepted with the new program, Youngren said. VISA’s credit card rules will not permit the vendor to charge a percentage service fee, and would require the university to charge the same fee for e-check transactions as well, rather than not charging the student. Students who use VISA, along with all others, will receive notification of the changes and what they need to do.

“We’ll provide as much info for them (students) so they can make informed decisions,” Youngren said.

The new program provides students with another option for paying their bills.

“They don’t have to stand in line when they just need to pay their bill,” Youngren said of students not needing to check on financial aid or use other resources available at payment time.

Besides shortening the wait time, the program offers a number of other features. E-mail notifications will be sent to students and the authorized payer, an account students can set up for themselves, parents or whoever is paying the bill. Online statements with a 16-month history, current activity information with real-time updates and detailed transactions are some more features. The new detailed transaction is more detailed compared to that which a student currently finds on WebAdvisor.

Students can access the online billing, current account activity and authorized payer profile Web sites through WebAdvisor. These sites are still currently under construction.

This change is not only happening at SDSU, but at the five other Regents schools.

“There’s some common needs,” Youngren said.

Other schools across the nation are already using e-commerce programs. Youngren said he really liked Oregon’s Web site, and would like to use it as a model for SDSU’s.

“We have taken a look at other schools,” he said.

Youngren said the new program is another reason students should activate and use their university e-mail accounts. There is less bounce back with these accounts compared to some students’ personal accounts.

Refunds will also be distributed using the e-commerce system through credit and debit card returns and direct deposit to bank accounts starting March 2006. The option of paper or electronic refunds exists as well.