ACI Blog

Success Speaks: How Roanoke College Simplified Higher Education Billing and Commerce

It is against this backdrop that Virginia’s Roanoke College, working with ACI and Ellucian, transformed its payments to meet student demands, secure precious data and simplify campus commerce. Roanoke has shared insights into how they were able to accomplish this in our latest Success Speaks webinar.

Bridging the gap between student expectations and campus commerce technology

The first challenge in delivering payments transformation in higher education is to better understand the needs and wants of students and their families. “Parents are the payers and the ones driving our business,” Mitzi Steele, database director at Roanoke College, told us. “We need to be aware of the changes that make their payments experience more beneficial, and less scary.”

Demands are generally centered around the payment experiences students and their families are most familiar with – typically online shopping. This is the gauge against which all payments are measured, requiring institutions like Roanoke to reconsider their payment and billing offerings.

“The biggest changes we’ve seen are how people want to use technology — the use of more devices, (like smartphones and tablets), and being able to deliver security for these devices. It used to be that consumers could go to a website and log in, but now they want to have that experience on other devices and want to make sure those devices are secure,” said Steele.

Modernizing the platform

Sandra Jackson, business office manager at Roanoke College, acknowledged that parents and students today have higher expectations for their payment experiences. To not only meet, but exceed these expectations, she says, Roanoke has had to work hard to keep its systems updated, noting that the work of IT departments is never done.

To help alleviate the stress felt by overworked IT departments, Jackson recommends making periodic reviews a priority. “Reviewing vendor relationships and contracts periodically to see what has changed and what new features exist helps to keep us current. For our staff, it’s much better to take a step back and examine new features that can add to the benefits.”

Steele added, “We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve; we have a good relationship with ACI, and we use Ellucian, so we’re always listening and being made aware of what’s coming.”

While adding new features is important, security is always top of mind for Roanoke. Every implementation revolves around the idea of making students feel confident that their information is secure.

Use cases

Though retail experiences may drive expectations, they certainly do not account for the range of challenges faced by colleges and universities. Jackson relayed a unique challenge facing campuses; “Student accounts are in the students’ names, but a large percentage of payers are parents. We must have pathways to allow the parents to pay without students being logged in.”

Other areas of concern included:

  • High-volume periods for payments, such as during pre-registration or housing selection
  • Balance holds can cause stress for students and families, especially for the 49 percent of students and parents who sometimes pay higher education tuition late
  • Implementation of scholarship funds in a timely, accurate fashion
  • Financial aid being added to an account from an outside source

All these instances must be addressed by campus commerce to ensure a satisfying, stress-free payments experience.

Delivering a better campus commerce experience

Working with ACI and Ellucian technology, Roanoke transformed its payments platform to address not only student demands, but also market demands.

One major advancement is the enablement of 24/7 eBilling. “When you go to eBilling, 24/7 availability is one of the biggest steps you make,” notes Jackson. “That’s what really enables students and parents to pay at their convenience, not just during our office hours.”

The team likened its new campus commerce billing and payments experience to online banking, where it’s possible to have a real-time view. Gen Z’s demand for immediate, accurate information makes this essential, so giving students the ability to see their accounts updated immediately offers them a greater feeling of connectivity – and relief when it comes to their payments.

In conclusion

Sandra and Mitzi were adamant that institutions should make the exploration of payment technologies part of their ongoing agenda. They recommend that teams set up periodic reviews to re-evaluate processes and speak with vendors about what’s new and what’s coming in the near future.

They also recommend that institutions commit to the idea of vendors as partners. They were quick to credit the close relationship with ACI as an innovation driver; one that has helped Roanoke College both add revenue and cut expenses.

For more information on how you can enhance your campus commerce experience, please visit

Director of Product Management

Marc Sczesnak serves as Director of Product Management for ACI Worldwide and has held numerous leadership roles in the financial services industry at Chase, Citi, US Bank and retailers Sears and Macys.  Most recently before joining ACI, Marc lead TD’s North American Retail Card Services business as President. Marc lead the business to achieve a 27% Compound Annual Growth Rate over his last three years at TD with a 40% return on invested capital.  Marc also orchestrated the rebranding of the Macys Star Rewards program and the launch of the largest Gold MasterCard program at Sears.  Marc writes about the convergence of marketing, loyalty and payment processing. He believes in the untapped potential in your most frequent consumer touchpoint – your electronic bill. By introducing interactive eBilling, Marc sees organizations improving their customer experience, lowering costs and increasing consumer touchpoints.