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The year is 1978. You stroll into your campus bookstore with a couple of twenty-dollar bills in hand — just enough to cover your economics textbook and a soda. The cashier rings you up and you politely hand her the bills before she hands you your change. 

We’re a long way from 1978. Things have changed. 

For starters, you’d be hard-pressed to find an economics textbook for under three figures on any college campus today. You’d also be hard-pressed to find many of today’s students walking around with cash in hand. 

Today’s generation of college students is well-versed in digital payments. They want to pay with mobile and contactless options and only begrudgingly carry and use cash when required. 

Yet even in an increasingly digital world, many colleges and universities are straddling the line between legacy systems and a digital payments future. 

Students Expect Digital

Students have adapted to a cashless society, even if society itself hasn’t. They are well-versed in ordering food delivery on their smartphones and sending money to friends with Venmo and other cash apps. Some data suggests nearly one-third of Gen Z have never written a check. So why hasn’t higher education caught up?

Students expect everything to be digital — from paying for tuition to buying books and accessing campus buildings. School ID cards are now being used as both debit cards and to access campus buildings like the library or the gym. 

The pandemic accelerated the push toward digital for many universities that were forced to pivot to remote learning. Online payment portals and other digital payment methods became the norm and will continue to be utilized for their speed and convenience. 

Variety is Key in Payments

The need for higher ed to adapt to changing consumer preferences is deeper than simply “going digital.” Students have nuanced needs and preferences as digital natives. Speed is critical as this generation is accustomed to instant gratification. Payments are no exception. This generation is not interested in waiting for payments or disbursements. Instant payment options are table stakes.

Higher education institutions benefit, too. Issuing refunds during the pandemic was a wake-up call to many who fully realized the expense of cutting paper checks and other manual processes associated with more traditional payment and disbursement/reimbursement methods.  

Modernizing payments infrastructure to offer digital options can streamline operations for universities, which in turn cuts costs and improves cash flow. As the cost of college tuition continues to take center stage, there’s a business case to be made for technology that can lower operational costs and subsequently keep student costs down, too. 

The only constant in payments is the notion that they will continue to evolve. Higher ed must evolve with them and take the necessary steps to meet changing student (and staff and parent) expectations. 

Looking for guidance on how to close the digital divide at your school? Contact us today for a free consultation. Our team is well-versed in digital payments and has deep expertise in higher education. 


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