Full House

Oct. 1, 1998
ID cards and one-card systems are an integral part of life on college and university campuses. The idea of one card, instead of many, for all the functions

ID cards and one-card systems are an integral part of life on college and university campuses. The idea of one card, instead of many, for all the functions of campus life is the current trend, and this trend is being driven by students' desire to carry only one card for multiple uses.

Cards currently are used for all or any combination of the following services:

-Picture ID.

-Access to a dining-services/vending account.

-Student-government elections.

-Purchase sports tickets.

-Access to residence halls and other campus buildings.

-Use recreational facilities.

-Cash checks on campus.

-Access gated reserved parking lots, time and attendance systems.

-Use the library and computer labs.

-Receive financial-aid disbursements.

-ATM/debit card when tied to a bank.

-Long-distance service.

-Bus passes.

Identification cards currently are used up to 30 times a day, and need to be a hardy product to withstand the abuses a college student will put it through, such as carrying it in a pocket with keys and change, putting it in a shoe or sock while playing intramural sports, scraping ice off of a windshield, or putting it through the washer and dryer at least once.

Searching for solutions There are as many solutions to integrating a one-card system on a campus as there are colleges. A campus will choose a card system based on its individual needs, capability of staff and cost. Many colleges are looking for a complete solution, one that is brought in and installed by a vendor to be a turnkey operation. Others are looking to put together a system from several vendors. Currently, there are several corporations providing good systems customized to the needs of colleges and universities.

Banks now are entering the campus card market with the idea of creating a partnership for life with the student. In addition, several of the major telecommunications service providers are involved. The average cost to implement a campus card is:

-$250,000 for 5,000 students.

-$500,000 for 10,000 students.

-$750,000 to $1 million for 15,000+ students.

With these cost figures, many colleges are phasing in the card system over 3 to 5 years. By doing so, the one-card system is seen as a cost-savings project-taking several cards and issuing areas, and combining them into one.

The downside is that the dollars previously spent on multiple-card-issuing areas are rarely given to the new area responsible for issuing the one-card system. Administrative efficiencies, enhanced image of the college, new revenue streams and lowered costs of cash handling are other reasons for implemen ting a one-card system.

The most important part of developing a one-card system is creating a strategic plan with task forces and student focus groups, and setting realistic timeframes for implementation. Chief administrators need to support the project since the card system will cross all departments and campus boundaries. In addition, everyone involved needs to remember that it is a campus project and to avoid becoming territorial.

Remaining positive Everyone involved needs to keep an open mind and have the attitude that the card system is needed. It is important that they work together. Part of the task force's job is to form partnerships with providers and get all areas to work together. Including people from every campus division early in the planning stage minimizes surprises and maximizes buy-in. It can take years to overcome preconceived notions, and sometimes people have to retire before an area can join the system.

While researching a campus card system, look at existing legacy systems and how the integrator can absorb these into the new product or solution. Utilizing existing campus databases or combining these databases into one that can be used for all areas needs to be considered. There are no off-the-shelf solutions to campus card systems. A college needs to assess its present and future needs and goals, and choose the vendor(s) with a technology platform that provides the best-proven solution.

For a one-card system to be successful, it needs to assure the users that it will be more convenient and feature additional services. Coordinate marketing efforts with all areas throughout the campus to give students an understanding of where and how to use the card.

Factors to consider Successful implementation of a one-card system depends on several factors that are easy to implement from the beginning:

-Choose a project manager that understands current technology.

-Use industry standards for the card size, such as CR80 (credit-card size) and standard materials that include PVC and combination PVC/polyester card stock.

-Standardize bar codes and the placement of the bar code on the card.

-Standardize placement of the magnetic stripes and the use of a high-coercivity stripe and standardized encoding schemes.

-Standardize placement of the smart chip.

The proliferation of uses of the card and the relationships that have been built with the on-campus users will aid the success of the system.

Make sure you understand who is using the card and how they are using it. An open channel of information, such as a users' group, is one way to ensure all information is known. It also is a way to get departments to work through similar system needs and cost savings by ordering equipment together, such as handheld readers for the intramural sports fields and the athletic department's remote stadiums.

The University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., began developing and implementing the Gator 1 ID card and card system in 1990. Currently, there are 60,000 card users on the campus.

When designing the Gator 1 card, the university chose the standard-size card and placement of the magnetic stripe. The first card was encoded with a site code for the university, the student's nine-digit social security number, and a one-digit version number for how many cards have been issued. All campus databases, which used student, staff and faculty information, were coded with the social security number.

A central database, which was fed by the registrar's office, personnel office, the bursar's office and the card issuing office, was coordinated. With this file, anyone wishing to use the card could use existing dumb terminals and computers with the addition of a keyboard-wedge magnetic-stripe reader. The information was on-line, real-time. This enabled departments to cost effectively use the card as a data-entry tool.

In urging the campus to use the card, the card office issued a statement that illustrated the encoding scheme on the magnetic stripe, provided suggestions of uses and recommended vendors.

Tying in to the system When the housing office began searching for a door card-access system, it indicated in the RFP that the system needed to have the capability to use the Gator 1 Card should the housing division choose to switch later.

In integrating the dining system onto the card, the system provider for the dining contract had to increase the field length from seven to 10 digits required by the campus card. The dining service paid the additional cost.

That same semester, the Recreation and Fitness Center opened using the main database and the card for entry. The athletic department brought student season ticketholders and regular student tickets on-line at the same time. Unfortunately, students returned to campus not knowing that the card was needed to purchase football tickets and use the recreation center.

Prior to the card, the athletic department referred to large books from the registrar's office, the student accounts area and its own season ticket file to prove a student could pick up tickets. With the development of the new ticketing database, the athletic department combined its season ticket file with downloads from the registrar's office and student accounts to ensure a student was in good standing and allowed to take advantage of the student services.

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