Campus Card Programs Offer Expanded Opportunities

At the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, students use their campus cards to purchase teeth from a vending machine. The program helps students in need of a bicuspid or molar to complete an assignment late at night. During the day, the Dental School benefits because it no longer has to assign the job of dispensing study-teeth to administrative personnel.“Now you can buy teeth whenever you need them,” says Shirley Everson, the director of the university’s U Card office.

While selling study teeth illustrates one of many innovative card solutions appearing in campus card operations around the country, Minnesota’s U Card also handles more routine functions. U Cards authenticate holders at sporting events, check out books at the library, reserve court time at the gym and provide access to residence halls and offices.

But the university’s large operation, which spans three offices and employs more than 10 people, has moved far beyond the normal campus card routine. It often helps university departments manage conferences, for example. At Continuing Medical Education Department conferences, registered participants receive magnetic stripe cards produced by the U Card office. Swiping a card through a reader at the conference entrance verifies the receipt of a conference information packet. Attendees also swipe in at presentations and seminars. The system records attendance, which is required to qualify for continuing education credits.

Another U Card service supplies identification badges to people in all walks of the university community, from maintenance technicians and health care providers to vendors coming onto campus.“They wear specially produced badges imprinted with names, departments and expiration dates,” Everson says. "If you see someone with an expired badge, he or she probably doesn’t belong, and you should call security.”

The U Card office consults with the Greater Minneapolis Visitor and Conference Association to set up conventions held on campus. Everson’s staff designs cards for events with logos of sponsoring organizations. Vendors with display booths use readers acquired in consultation with the U Card office to track visitors.

U Card programs generate revenue for the university. Individuals who lose their cards must pay a $15 fee for a replacement. Specialty card activities also bring in fees. While these revenues pay for the operation of the U Card office, contractual relationships with outside businesses bring in royalty payments that benefit major university programs.

For example, Everson’s office has contracted with a major bank to provide services for students. Under the contract, the bank’s logo goes onto U Cards for students with bank accounts. The card can be used as an ATM at the bank and a debit card for purchases transactions. While banking is not an unusual card function, the exclusive relationship with the bank has generated royalty payments to the university scholarship fund totaling $14 million over the past 10 years.

What’s Next For Campus Cards?

Not all campus card operations range as far afield as Everson’s. But, even campus card operations limited to primary university functions are finding new applications.

At the University of Northern Colorado (UNC), Cindy Vetter, director of the UNC card program and student business services, believes that smart cards and expanded security services will drive the next phase of campus card growth.

Vetter currently manages card services that provide banking, long distance telephone access, library privileges, access to university events, dining services and basic security access control. But, she is always looking for new card ideas.

For example, Vetter planned to convert UNC to smart cards at the beginning of the 2003 school year. The university purchased card stock and equipment, did the necessary marketing and made ready to re-card the campus. Unfortunately, the vendor failed to complete a key backside transaction system in time, a problem that would limit common uses for the card. “If a student can’t use his or her smart card at the grocery store, why should I pay $5 for it?” she asks. “I can get magnetic stripe cards for less than $1 each. So, we scratched the program and decided to wait until we see cost-effective standardization for smart cards.”

Despite the glitch, Vetter still believes smart cards will play a role in campus card operations.

So will new security applications. UNC adapted its campus card to provide access to main entries at residence halls several years ago. Today, Vetter and other UNC administrators are considering card access for individual rooms. “Kids always forget to lock their doors,” she says. “This is a way to lock them automatically.”

Vetter is also watching developments in the biometric access control. “Many schools are looking at finger and palm-print biometric systems that can be used in conjunction with a card. Here’s my palm print. Here’s my card. The system verifies that this is the person to whom the card was assigned.”

Another advantage to biometric systems is that they can provide cardless access, continues Vetter. For example, students using recreational center exercise equipment find it inconvenient to carry cards and keys while exercising. A biometric system could eliminate the problem.

From selling teeth to smoothing the way for exercise, campus card operations across the country are finding new ways to apply technology for the benefit of students, faculty and administrators.