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Digital Payment Platforms Increasingly Critical for Schools

The growing popularity of electronic transactions has led schools to invest in tools like BlueSnap, a digital payment platform that expedites billing for expenses such as meal costs in K-12 and tuition at universities.

As schools continue pouring billions into the ever-growing ed-tech market to purchase virtual learning products for online instruction, administrative processes have also gone digital. Leaving pen and paper behind, schools and universities have looked to online payment platforms to handle a wide variety of student expenses previously handled in person.

One beneficiary of the increase in demand for online payment options has been the Massachusetts-based financial technology company BlueSnap. Ranked this year by the Boston Business Journal as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the state, BlueSnap credits much of its recent growth to a new need for online transactions in schools and universities, where many students remain engaged in remote learning, sometimes out of state.

BlueSnap Global Head of Partnerships Jeff Coppolo said enabling digital transactions on everything ranging from school lunch to course fees has become more critical than ever during COVID-19.

“Payments are a crucial, but often overlooked, part of the equation for schools looking to serve their parents and students, as they’re often handled by a third party,” he said, adding that schools have embraced more digital payment options for tuition fees and some after-school program expenses.

“Educational institutions want to offer the same modern payment experience to their parents and students that they encounter with other frictionless transaction processes, like Uber and Amazon,” he added. “People have moved away from paper checks and cash to electronic payments, bank transfers such as ACH and SEPA, and digital e-wallets like ApplePay, GooglePay and PayPal.”

Though there are several other similar payment platforms and services available for schools, Coppolo believes their program stands out due to its compatibility with other software programs and ed-tech platforms.

He said the software, named Best Payment Service Provider at last month’s 2021 Card Not Present (CNP) Expo, can be embedded seamlessly into other platforms. He said the program comes with an automated onboarding API system for schools to adopt the platform.

In addition, Coppolo said, the tool can route transactions with over 30 global banks and through 110 payment types, global currencies and e-wallet programs, allowing districts and universities to pay for ed-tech products developed overseas.

“This global network of banks also allows for intelligent payment routing and instant failover of declined transactions for higher authorization rates,” he said. “The result is that education software providers can help their clients get paid faster by offering an easy way for students and families to pay the way they want to.”

However, the rapid adoption of digital payment programs over the past two years has created new cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Coppolo said the digital surge has "put more pressure on legacy providers to modernize their systems and payment processes" and to safeguard sensitive school data.

According to a recent report from the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, 2020 marked the worst year for cyber crimes against public schools that have grappled with an unprecedented increase in ransomware and malware attacks.

The FBI and other agencies have also designated education as the most targeted public sector for cyber attacks – making digital payment tools a risky business.

Noting these concerns, the platform bolstered its security protocols for schools. Coppolo said schools receive the platform’s “most comprehensive” risk management system with safeguards such as DDOS mitigation, a web application firewall and a Kount-powered fraud management engine.

“The platform is fully compliant [with federal regulations] and includes a complete set of built-in tools to address security and mitigate fraud with every transaction,” he said.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.