For people who don't want their pants pockets or purses weighed down by coins and keys or their wallets fattened by an array of plastic cards, a college campus is becoming the place to be.
Many colleges and universities are taking advantage of technological advances to transform the modest identification card into a powerful commercial tool, as well as a device to enhance campus security. Campus cards can eliminate the need for keys to residence hall buildings and individual rooms, and allow students and staff to purchase meals, supplies and other services — on and off campus — without having to carry coins or currency.
“If you want to be cashless, you can,” says Troy Heppner, campus card coordinator at Seattle University.
Ready to move
Higher-education institutions are eager to upgrade their card systems to incorporate more services and functions, but many have been stymied by budget constraints, says Lowell Adkins, executive director of the National Association of Campus Card Users.
“Both the schools and vendors are wanting to expand into more functions,” says Adkins. “Unfortunately, the factor that none of us can control is the economic situation. There is a pent-up demand across the board — from schools that don't have a system and schools that have a piece of a card system and want to expand. Community colleges are especially a market that can be expanded. You hear over and over again, ‘I'm ready to do this if we only had the funding.’”
The cards offer an impressive assortment of functions for students.
“The technology has changed so much over the years,” says David Kohr, housing director at the University of Syracuse, which began using an early version of the “one-card” system in 1982. “The early systems were designed mostly for food service.”
Today's cards can provide controlled access to residence halls, student apartments, recreational centers, academic buildings, and individual offices and laboratories; it can enable students to check out materials from the library, pay for books and tuition, dining-hall meals, laundry, copying services and parking; buy products from vending machines and from shops and restaurants on and off campus; even vote in campus elections.
As they look to establish or upgrade one-card systems, college administrators want their campus cards to be compatible with other systems that keep track of the school's student records and finances.
“The biggest thing that schools want [card] vendors to do is to establish an interface with administrative and student records, human resources and payroll,” says Adkins.
The more functions placed on a card, the more likely a student will value it and use it with care.
“You try to put as many things on the card as you can,” says Adkins. “The more functions on a card, the more a student sees the card as a focal point of campus life.”