K12 Records Resources

July 26, 2023

Understanding Payment Technology Expectations for Schools


There is a disparity between the expectations and reality of payment technology in schools.


School systems often only accept payments through cash and checks, but the constituents they serve are making digital payments with nearly every other place they do business. The simplicity and accessibility of digital payments have made the demand for digital skyrocket in all industries, including education.


The payment methods used by schools have not kept pace with the changing times. While many families prefer to make digital payments, schools are still relying on outdated processes, causing frustration and exacerbating accessibility issues.


Student payments are crucial to the successful operation of a school system. Implementing digital options reduces community frustrations with educational institutions


What types of payments do schools process? 

School districts collect fees for a wide variety of things. Payments are made for things like transcript requests, application fees, student activities, tuition, meals, books, and more.


Outdated schools rely on manual payments using cash, checks, or money orders. Others are shifting to accepting digital payments such as credit and debit cards, online payments, and mobile payments.


Scholarships and grants used to cover the cost of education, particularly for students who may not have the financial resources to pay for tuition and fees in full, are also processed by school systems. Some families even use payment plans with schools to break fees down into smaller, more manageable installments rather than paying the entire amount upfront. 


Overall, schools process a variety of payments to make education accessible to all students. 


The mismatch between payment expectations and reality

The majority of Americans expect digital payments. However, there is a disconnect as many school systems are still using outdated, paper-based processes. Schools need to embrace digital payments but are often slow to adopt them, if at all.


According to our nationwide study, more than 56 percent of district members consider paper-based payment methods outdated. We also found that over the next 2 to 3 years, most people would prefer to make a payment online.


Americans are quickly moving away from paper options as time goes by. We know this because our study found that 44 percent of Generation Z is not confident they could write a check and 73 percent of Americans believe emerging generations will demand that all government interactions be through mobile devices. 


When that’s the case, schools requiring paper-based forms of payment are asking for the impossible from some families. The lack of digital alternatives frustrates and embarrasses families without access as they feel their needs are not being met like those with access to paper-based options.


Providing digital payment options is reflective of the modern way the world operates. Anyone with access to a smartphone can make a payment at their convenience. If your school presents these digital options to families, they’ll feel more respected and look more positively on your school system. 


What challenges do schools face with processing payments?

Schools face several challenges when processing payments, particularly with outdated paper-based processes. Processing manual payments can come with many issues.


Your staff members spend an unnecessary amount of time manually processing payments. That’s time better spent assisting families with more complex issues.


Handling payments from families means districts are responsible for sensitive student data, which requires strict privacy measures to protect. Manual payment processing can hinder schools subject to FERPA and PCI laws. Plus, there’s a greater risk of human error when staff are responsible for processing a large volume of payments. When information isn’t digital, there’s no paper trail and documents are easy to misplace.


Districts with antiquated processes require in-person visits to submit a request and pay the necessary fees. This is a massive burden to guardians who have to rearrange their schedule or pay for transportation and creates poor business interactions for the school.


Digital options provide extra security and convenience that traditional payment methods simply cannot offer. Going digital helps your district operate as a productive and efficient business. 


What can district leaders learn about payments from the business world? 

If school systems want to improve the experience for families, turning to the business world for guidance can help.


Companies take a customer-centric approach. They look for ways to simplify redundant processes for their customers, and that means making purchasing and ordering as smooth as possible. District leaders must foster the same customer-first mindset.


The assistant superintendent for student support services at Harnett County Schools compels school leaders to think about what they can do for families first and not the other way around.


“One of the most important things districts can do to keep or grow its enrollment is to be partners with their families. Communicate with them. Make processes easy for them. Welcome them. Speak their language. And make it understood that you care so much about their child’s education you will literally track that student down to see how you can help them succeed.”

— Jermaine White, Assistant Superintendent Harnett County Schools


School systems can foster the same customer-service approach as private companies when they do things like providing a digital payment alternative. 


Meet the technology expectations of your community with Scribbles

The payment technology expectations of families in school districts have evolved with the times, while the reality of payment processes in many schools has not kept up. 


Providing digital payment options not only improves the experience for families but also saves time and minimizes security risks for districts. By embracing digital payments, school leaders prioritize the needs of families, communicate effectively, and improve accessibility—similar to how businesses put their customers first.


The shift to paperless processes in school systems supports families and fosters a positive relationship between districts and their communities.


Download our latest report to learn more about the expectations of K-12 communities and the benefits of going paperless.


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Fill out the form to download the full Communications with Education Systems Report.