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ACI Blog

Success Speaks: Surprising New Ways Students Want to Pay


Today’s payments landscape for colleges and universities

As David R. Glezerman, assistant vice president and bursar at Temple University opined, there are four major payments-related issues that keep institutions awake at night: data security, privacy, customer service demands, and collecting tuition and fees.

When it comes to data security, colleges and universities are like any other organization, where breaches and break-ins are a near-constant source of stress. Securing students and their families is a top priority, especially in today’s growing threat landscape. Hand-in-hand with data security is privacy, or the school’s duty to protect sensitive payments information. Glezerman was quick to note that this is often a high concern among parents, whose trust in a school’s digital payment methods may not be as high as other institutions.

Glezerman then mentioned customer service demands, where families expect answers in near-real time, which can often place a burden on staff. This need for instantaneous answers is not unexpected, though it is incumbent on educational institutions to find a way to satisfy these demands. This comes at a time when both budgets and support staff may actually be shrinking, forcing schools to do more with less, while still providing a great experience.


Understanding Gen Z consumers

Today’s college students are made up almost exclusively of those belonging to Gen Z, typically born from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s. This group of digital natives has high expectations when it comes to consumers’ experiences, but is simultaneously anxious about paying bills.

53 percent of Gen Z has paid a bill late in the last 12 months compared to 46 percent of Americans of all ages. But rather than conforming to the payments habits of their elders, Jeff Fromm, president of FutureCast, states that this is a demographic known for starting movements. Brands looking to secure payments from this group must adapt to Gen Z’s sensibilities or else they’ll risk alienating this powerful demographic.

For Glezerman, this means looking not towards other colleges and universities for inspiration, but towards brands such as Amazon, Wayfair or Starbucks. These retail experiences provide several desirable attributes that Gen Z students enjoy, particularly 24/7/365 availability, low (or no) fees, and convenience.

“The days of people getting in their car and coming to a physical office, 40 years ago that may have been the case, but today people want to do things from the comfort of their home,” said Glezerman. “Dealing with mobile, dealing with all the technology that’s available, this is what our younger generations know and expect.”

In addition, FutureCast’s Fromm noted six youth consumer mindsets that most influence transactions:

  • Social circle – the ability of a brand to fit within their lifestyle (Apple, Starbucks, Snapchat)
  • Self – the ability of a brand to represent the consumer (Red Bull, Sephora, Nike)
  • Innovative – the ability of a brand to innovate to make life better (Google, Fortnite, Mint)
  • Trusted – the ability of a brand to put consumer needs first (FedEx, Southwest)
  • Accessible – the ability of a brand to simplify life (Amazon, Venmo, Netflix)
  • Purpose – the ability of a brand to do good (Toms, Dove)

For Gen Z, brands must talk the talk and walk the walk. Actions will speak louder than words, and if your school is not delivering on its mission statement or value proposition, it will impact the satisfaction of students.


What payment methods students and parents want

ACI’s Marc Sczesnak, director of product management, shared the results of a recent survey of students and parents conducted by Aite Group. In response to the question of what would decrease late payments:

  • 97% debit or credit
  • 94% real-time
  • 91% text message
  • 74% reminders (text, email)

Additionally, 94% of families paying late said that they would like to use a virtual collection agent to make their payments.


How colleges and universities are becoming more innovative, trusted and accessible

To meet these demands, many institutions have begun offering or developing text message payments. Some of our research has indicated that the average attention span of Gen Z is eight seconds. They’re used to being given a problem and having a means by which they can immediately deal with it. Features like text payments can help with customer satisfaction or Net Promoter Scores.

Real-time disbursements are also becoming increasingly popular. With the proliferation of real-time payments, students are now looking to receive refunds as quickly as possible. Schools must work to bring real-time payments to their campuses to satisfy students who are now experiencing real-time payments elsewhere.


Easing the payments burden for international students

According to Open Doors, more than 1 million international students studied in the U.S. in 2017-2018, which contributed more than $42 billion to the U.S. economy. But these international students present a new array of challenges for colleges and universities.

65% of students receive funds from sources outside of the U.S., which can cause a host of issues. Schools must work with a range of currencies and payment types, to say nothing of dealing with exchange rates, payments tracking and multi-currency refund management. When there is a problem, customer support may prove to be a challenge.

Arif Harji, chief market strategist for MTFX Group of Companies, offered the following take: “Schools really need to focus in on closing the gap between cultural and language barriers that exist between different countries. And when you couple local country payments and local multi-lingual customer support, we believe that the whole concept of administering and processing international tuition payments becomes a lot easier for students.”

Harji believes that schools can provide a differentiated experience for international students through the use of real-time payments, savings on currency exchanges and 24/7 multi-lingual support.


Getting in front of the changes

Colleges and universities are being forced to adapt towards Gen Z’s real-time sensibilities and demands for convenience. Glezerman recommends that schools view outsourcing as a positive way to meet these demands, as schools can benefit greatly from partners who can deliver experience, expertise, economies of scale and operational efficiencies.

Similarly, Harji suggests that schools prepare themselves today for the changes that lie ahead. Blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and the natural evolution of payment ecosystems are either here or soon will be. Colleges and universities must begin to strategize and partner with experts who can help them take advantage of this opportunity to get in front of these changes and deliver a satisfying experience for all students.


For more great facts, figures and insights, listen to the entire “Success Speaks” conversation. For more information on how you can enhance your campus commerce experience, 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.