The university transitioned to no longer accepting Visa and is charging a 1.9 percent convenience fee for online payments made using credit cards this semester, but the cost will likely increase in the future.
Valarie Van Vlack, university treasurer, said that while the transition was met with some confusion, most students and parents were understanding and well-informed about the change.
“I can’t say there haven’t been some complaints, but I was not surprised at the fact that people understood,” Van Vlack said. “Nobody wants to hear that, but it’s a common practice and most of the schools in the U.S. do it. Most of the Texas schools that are allowing credit cards are charging it as well.”
Van Vlack said the university heard back from people who were unfamiliar with the procedural change, but said they expected that not everyone would read the emails about the switch.
“People were understanding that our appropriations are getting cut, and we have to look at ways to save university money and not increase tuition,” Van Vlack said.
Van Vlack said the university harbored the costs of credit card processing fees before the fee was introduced, an accumulation that reached into the millions. Visa is no longer accepted because its merchant rules do not allow for convenience fees to be administered to its credit cards.
“We were looking at ways to allow credit cards for the people that want to use them,” Van Vlack said. “But the cost was getting unbearable for all the different things we have to do to accept the credit card with all the process. So we decided to charge a convenience fee for those who wanted the convenience of using a credit card.”
Before reaching the initial decision to administer the convenience fee, Van Vlack said discontinuing all forms of credit card payment were considered.
“We had looked at not accepting credit cards at all, but we knew that wasn’t acceptable to some people that needed to use them. So we found this solution to be the best option,” Van Vlack said.
When the university first decided to stop absorbing the convenience fee charge, officials made it known students would be penalized 1.9 percent. This is how much they determined it would cost to administer the fee themselves. The university eventually chose TouchNet to process the convenience fee, a provider that handles charges for approximately 600 universities across the nation. Van Vlack said initially the hopes were to handle the charge themselves instead of outsourcing to a third party company.
However, TouchNet charges 2.75 percent to undertake the task, so the university is still supplementing money to cover the cost to outsource the convenience fee administration.
As a result, the actual convenience fee being charged will be increasing to at least 2.75 percent beginning in the summer semester, Van Vlack said. She said the rate might increase to more than 2.75 percent pending notification from TouchNet.
Cindy Kruckemeyer, director of student business services, said every effort was made to inform students well in advance of the change. Email notifications, advertisements and postcards were used to do this. Kruckemeyer said students should expect a notification in February of the increase in the service fee.
Kruckemeyer said although credit card payments can no longer be made in person in the SBS office, payments could also be made without accruing fees by using an electronic check. Students can also mail in payments or bring in non-credit card payments in person. This can be performed in the student business services office, located on the first floor of the J.C. Kellam administration building.
Trista Bullock, nutrition and foods sophomore, said the new fee was annoying and somewhat inconvenient but was understandable. She noted there were other options available to students to make payments.
Van Vlack and Kruckemeyer both stressed the university is in no way benefitting from the fee, but actually saving money by no longer having to shoulder the cost of credit card processing fees.
“We try to keep it as low as possible, but we do not get any of that money,” Van Vlack said. “It goes directly to the third party and we’re not making a dime on it. It’s just allowing people to pay by credit card and not have all those costs for the university.”