Colleges respond to student needs by offering digital payments

September 17, 2021

Partnership with U.S. Bank helps address pandemic challenges by enabling electronic payment options.


At the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, two related liberal arts institutions just miles apart near St. Cloud, Minnesota., the administrators who run the business offices are guided by Benedictine values. In fact, they leaned into one of those values when they made the move in early 2019 to replace the outdated software that supported student payments: Listening. 

When the business officers decided to adopt Payee Choice, an innovative payment solution from U.S. Bank, they were listening to what students said they wanted and had come to expect in their daily lives: a hassle-free, digital payment experience.

What they didn’t realize at the time is that their decision would not only improve the student payment experience immediately upon implementation, but the new solution would also allow the schools and their students to pivot almost effortlessly when confronted with new issues and concerns — especially around issuing student refunds — created months later by the coronavirus pandemic.

Payment options beyond paper checks

When the schools’ administrators started looking to replace their outdated cashiering software, they had a clear goal in mind.

“The software we used for a decade allowed us to make student refunds by cutting a check on the spot or mailing students a check,” says David Schneider, director of student accounts at the College of Saint Benedict. “We were looking for a solution that offered students some of the different payment options they were often asking for beyond checks. Payee Choice was unique in the marketplace.”

The two colleges simultaneously adopted Payee Choice for the fall 2019 semester and began sending instructions for student payments to U.S. Bank, which emails a notification to students when they have a refund or other payment available. The email directs them to a website branded with the schools’ logos, where they choose how they would like to get paid going forward.

In the first year of use, the most popular electronic payment choices were Automated Clearing House (ACH) direct deposits and Zelle® . These options give the students quicker access to funds and eliminate the need for them to wait in line at the business office for a check and then deposit it. In fact, by choosing Zelle, with just a few taps on their mobile phone students can get money in their bank accounts almost instantly — without having to remember their bank account number details.

“We’re such a mobile society in this age group,” notes Michelle Hemmesch, director of student accounts at Saint John’s University. “Students expect everything to be done on their phones. And with Payee Choice, they’re able to do that.”


A pandemic-perfect payment solution

The timing of adopting Payee Choice just prior to the onset of the coronavirus was ideal, school administrators say. The pandemic presented unforeseen challenges that the new solution was suited perfectly to address.

When halfway through the spring 2020 semester the colleges shifted to remote-only learning, they needed a convenient way to deliver partial room-and-board refunds to students. Likewise, students who had returned home, some to foreign countries, needed a no-hassle way to receive those refunds. Payee Choice addressed both challenges with its electronic payment options — and saved the colleges time and money in the process.

“It would have been a lot of costly work to cut all those checks and mail them, but with Payee Choice, U.S. Bank was able to take care of that for us in a timely fashion,” Hemmesch says.

In addition, when the federal government responded to the pandemic with CARES Act emergency-relief grants, the two Benedictine colleges used Payee Choice to enable students to receive their grant payments of $350 to $1,200 through a convenient electronic method. “By disbursing those grants through U.S. Bank, we saved days if not weeks of work,” she says.

“We’re such a mobile society in this age group. Students expect everything to be done on their phones. And with Payee Choice, they’re able to do that.”

Meeting student expectations for digital payments

Payee Choice is meeting students’ expectations that financial transactions be mobile driven, paper free and instantaneous. One of the best indications it has been a success with students is that the administrators haven’t received any complaints about the new digital payments program, Schneider says.

“Sometimes silence is a good thing,” he notes. “On the other hand, we have had a few students, after accepting a direct deposit or Zelle payment, tell us they’re excited it’s so quick and easy.”

Adds his colleague Hemmesch: “Payee Choice may seem cutting edge to us, but the students are so immersed in their culture of everything is online and fast that a solution like this is just something they’ve come to expect.”


A smooth implementation of Payee Choice

The process of getting up and running on Payee Choice went without a hitch, Schneider says. “We received plenty of attention and support from technical people at the bank. I found the process fast and the people extremely responsive,” he says. “We had a number of meetings to work out the details, and it was a very successful implementation.”
The big test for Payee Choice was when school started at the end of August 2019, and “it went very smoothly from the time students started requesting funds,” Hemmesch says. “It’s been a little over a year now and it just keeps getting easier.”


Consistent with the institutions’ values

Hemmesch says adopting Payee Choice was a clear case of the business offices heeding the value of listening by considering students’ desire for convenient, digital methods of accepting payments. But two other Benedictine values played into the decision as well, she says.

One was stewardship. “Payee Choice helps us be good stewards of our students’ money, enabling us to deliver those funds to them as quickly as possible,” Hemmesch says.

The other pertinent value is stability. The schools have had deposit and treasury management relationships with U.S. Bank for about five years. “When we partner with U.S. Bank, we know we’re dealing with a tried-and-true, stable institution. We know them and have confidence in their products,” she says.

Related content

Automate escheatment for accounts payable to save time and money

3 awkward situations Zelle can help avoid

Banking connectivity: Helping businesses deliver the easier, faster, more secure customer experience of the future

Restaurant survey shows changing customer payment preferences

The cyber insurance question: Additional protection beyond prevention

Webinar: CSM corporation re-thinks AP

Digital Onboarding helps finance firm’s clients build communities

Higher education strategies for e-payment migration, fighting fraud

5 Ways to protect your government agency from payment fraud

Improve government payments with electronic billing platforms

Unexpected cost savings may be hiding in your payment strategy

Treasury management innovations earn Model Bank awards

Dear Money Mentor: How do I set and track financial goals?

Can faster payments mean better payments?

4 benefits to paying foreign suppliers in their own currency

Benefits of billing foreign customers in their own currency

Real-time payments: the next major treasury disruptor

Ways prepaid cards disburse government funds to the unbanked

Want AP automation to pay both businesses and consumers?

Enhancing the patient experience through people-centered payments

Government billing survey: The digital transformation of the payment experience

Automate accounts payable to optimize revenue and payments

Colleges respond to student needs by offering digital payments

Dear Money Mentor: How do I begin paying off credit card debt?

What government officials should know about real-time payments

Time is money: Intelligent Payment Routing saves businesses both

4 ways to make practical use of real-time payments

How to avoid being the victim of a digital payments scam

Drive digital transformation with payments innovation

Tailor Ridge eBill case study

Buying or leasing? Questions to ask before signing a contract

Overcoming the 3 key challenges of a lump sum relocation program

Make holiday gift giving easier in a digital world

Higher education and the cashless society: Latest trends

What corporate treasurers need to know about Virtual Account Management

Managing the rising costs of payment acceptance with service fees

3 emerging technology trends for bankers

Tap-to-pay: Modernizing fare payments pays off for transit agencies and riders

Zelle® helps Sunriver Resort make payments efficient and secure

Role of complementary new channels in your payments strategy

Streamline operations with all-in-one small business financial support

Why ecommerce for small business strategy is integral

6 timely reasons to integrate your receivables

How blockchain technology is changing treasury

Blockchain: Separating hype from substance

How COVID-19 is transforming healthcare payments

Luxury jeweler enhances the digital billing and payment customer experience

How Everyday Funding can improve cash flow

Payment industry trends that are the future of POS

Modernizing fare payment without leaving any riders behind

Access, flexibility and simplicity: How governments can modernize payments to help their citizens

Webinar: Digitizing receivables to transform B2B rent payments

Checklist: What you’ll need for your first retail pop-up shop

Increase working capital with Commercial Card Optimization

How mobile point of sale (mPOS) can benefit your side gig

P2P payments make it easier to split the tab

When your spouse has passed away: A three-month financial checklist

How to save money in college: easy ways to spend less

Myth vs. truth: What affects your credit score?

Integrated receivables management solution supports customer focus at MSC Industrial Supply

ABCs of APIs: Drive treasury efficiency with real-time connectivity

Hospitals face cybersecurity risks in surprising new ways

How jumbo loans can help home buyers and your builder business

How real-time inventory visibility can boost retail margins

How emerging banking solutions enable better decisions

Webinar: Cash management strategies for higher education

Escheatment resources: Reporting deadlines for all 50 states

Empowering managers with data automation and integration

Common pitfalls to avoid in the equipment financing process

The secret to successful service provider integration

How running a business that aligns with core values is paying off

Meet the Milwaukee businessman behind Funky Fresh Spring Rolls

How electronic billing platforms improve government payments

How to redefine challenges with business collaboration

Rethinking common time management tips

How to apply for a business credit card

How a small business is moving forward during COVID-19

How to accept credit cards online

3 ways to gain loyalty with your customers

Finance or operating lease? Deciphering the legalese of equipment finance

Digital trends poised to reshape hotel payments

Three healthcare payment trends that will continue to matter in 2022

Safeguarding the payment experience through contactless

How AI in treasury management is transforming finance

Understanding and preparing for the new payment experience

White Castle optimizes payment transactions

ABCs of ARP: Answers to American Rescue Plan questions for counties

The AI journey in finance: How to make it part of your strategy

Government agency credit card programs and PCI compliance

3 benefits of integrated payments in healthcare

Webinar: AP automation for commercial real estate

COVID-19 safety recommendations: Are you ready to reopen?

How to improve digital payments security for your health system

Top 3 ways digital payments can transform the patient experience

Webinar: Fraud prevention and mitigation for government agencies

Webinar: CRE technology trends

Webinar: Robotic process automation

Webinar: CRE treasury leader roundtable

Zelle® and Zelle®-related marks and logos are property of Early Warning Services, LLC.

Start of disclosure content

Loan approval is subject to credit approval and program guidelines. Not all loan programs are available in all states for all loan amounts. Interest rate and program terms are subject to change without notice. Mortgage, home equity and credit products are offered by U.S. Bank National Association. Deposit products are offered by U.S. Bank National Association. Member FDIC.