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M Center replaces TMS with CASHNet

In the wake of widespread dissatisfaction with Tuition Management System (TMS), Mills College’s M Center will switch to a streamlined billing and payment service that will enable students and families to manage their financial accounts on one Web site.

On June 1, the M Center will launch an improved student account site through CASHNet, which officials hope will be more comprehensive, reliable and accommodating to students and their families than the current TMS setup. All students will be able to log on to see their balance and pay their tuition and fees online.

According to Deborah Long, M Center Operations Manager, negative responses from Mills students and families in a survey conducted by TMS last fall to determine Monthly Payment Plan and eBill user satisfaction inspired the switch.

By leaving TMS, Long said the M Center hoped to find a payment provider with strengths in not only payment plans, but electronic billing and online payments as well.

“The issue we have with TMS is that students have to go to three different sites to do those things,” Long said, referring to how students must go to one Web site to make payments and view and change payment plans, another Web site to make payments in full and another Web site to view their eBill.

Editorial cartoon by Melodie Miu. Contributed by Christina Macias.

“What we found was that it was really confusing for students and families to go to all these different Web sites,” she said.

“If you fixed about a dozen design defects in your Web user interface, you could improve your customer retention and reduce your support costs,” one frustrated anonymous parent suggested in the survey. “You know what the defects are. Why don’t you do it?”

Such defects include not just the inconvenience of logging onto multiple Web sites, but also miscommunication issues between them.

“Their system – TMS – isn’t talking with our database system,” Long said.

One anonymous student who took the survey had a frustrating experience when she accidentally typed in the wrong amount when making her monthly payment.

“I was charged outrageous fees for making a simple key pad error on one of my payments,” the student said. “I am already a starving college student. I can’t afford extra fees!”

The response was one of several provided to The Campanil by M Center staff.

Not all the experiences with TMS have been negative, as some students and families have appreciated the great customer service the program had to offer.

“Wonderful service, responsive and responsible staff, no hassles. Wish that the rest of life were this easy,” said one parent in the same TMS-conducted survey.

But Long said her department began searching for a better tuition-payment provider in December 2008, before the survey was published in 2009, because the setbacks to TMS the department already knew of were too great to overlook.

After considering reputation, cost and services, Long and other members of the M Center concluded CASHNet, a provider that boasts of its “one, integrated system” for all of its services, would provide the best combination of the old and the new.

“We’re trying to translate our current services over to CASHNet,” Long said. “It will be the same option for the monthly payment plan – it will be no interest; there will be an enrollment fee, just like there is now; and a lot more of the services will be handled by Mills behind the scenes, and we think that will be better for communication.”

Currently, the M Center is in the testing phase of the new program as employees are configuring the new Web site.

“When students log into the Portal and go to MyMills, they can actually go straight to this account page, your account page,” Long said. “That’s the difference: You’re not going to three outside Web sites…. It’s a seamless transition.”

Through the new system, e-mail notifications will be sent whenever bills are ready to be viewed and students will no longer have to write out checks for payment. The cost was also a major consideration in this change.

Vice President for Finance and Administration LaDene Diamond said “CASHNet is projected to cost less than TMS.”