Another Way to Call Home - Or Anyplace Else

The use and breadth of one-card programs at colleges and universities across the country continues to evolve. What began as a way to administer food service operations has expanded to include campus voting, parking, sports tickets and paying for everything from books to laundry. The uses for one-card programs seem to be limited only by the imagination.

At the University of Oklahoma (OU) in Norman, another component has been added to the one-card program - telephone calling card services. Students may use the card for local calls or in place of other long-distance calling card programs.

"We continually evaluate the services that we offer OU students, faculty and staff as part of the one-card program," states David Shirley, OU’s bursar. "For reasons of security and convenience, two of the main criteria we use when evaluating card services, adding a telephone calling card component was a logical step."

OU went through a thorough process in selecting its vendor, a contract that was ultimately awarded to AT&T. "All interested vendors had to submit a comprehensive proposal," Shirley notes. "We analyzed the benefits that all users and the university would receive." OU has a three-year contract with AT&T, which will be reviewed annually to ensure that both sides are receiving the benefits that were envisioned when the program started.

The program has been implemented at virtually no cost to OU. AT&T paid for all costs associated with updating campus equipment so that all public telephones can accept the card. They also paid for the cost of issuing new cards with the service to existing cardholders who elected to participate in the program. In association with the university, AT&T is also helping to market the cards to potential users.

The calling-card feature can be used for both local calls and long-distance service at any phone with magnetic swiping capabilities. "The security aspect was as important to us as the convenience the calling-card component offers," comments Shirley. "Students who have an emergency, even on the local level, don’t have to worry about having change available to make a call."

For long-distance calls, card users receive a lower rate than they might be able to secure independent of the program. Those who elect to use the program also do not have to pay a monthly surcharge or fee, and they do not pay an initial connection charge. Program users also receive a student advantage card, or discount card, which is worth approximately $25 to $35; the card can be used at stores around the country. Students are billed on a monthly basis by AT&T, which handles all administrative aspects associated with the calling card.

Shirley believes the rates that OU card users receive are competitive. "The costs for both national and international calls to our users are in line with other telephone calling-card programs in the marketplace. We review the volume of calls on a quarterly basis, and the rates become lower as the volume increases. That option isn’t available to users outside the one-card program," he says.

The most recent analysis indicates that approximately 38 to 40 percent of potential users have elected to enroll in the program. "Using the calling card is strictly voluntary," Shirley notes. "The use of the program has continually increased since it was implemented last spring. Students and other potential users have many options to consider when it comes to calling card programs. We believe the use will continue to grow as individuals become more familiar with the benefits to them."

Admittedly, there is a benefit to the university other than providing a higher level of security and convenience to students, faculty and staff. The calling-card program is another source of revenue for OU. "Figures for what the university will gain financially from the arrangement will not be available until later this spring," says Shirley. "At that point, the program will have been operational for one year, and we’ll be able to assess the impact of the program as part of the university’s revenue stream."

Calling-card programs like the one adopted by OU are only another step in the continuing evolution of one-card programs according to Shirley. "We receive requests from our users for additional card services all the time," he observes. "these suggestions, coupled with what other colleges and universities may be doing, gives us a wealth of information to consider. One-card programs won’t go away. They will continue to grow as higher education officials and users seek to expand the convenience and security the cards offer to the greatest extent possible."

Janet Wiens is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Memphis, Tenn.