Campus Cards >> Shoppin' Via Consortium

For a trio of schools in Vermont, forming a card consortium for campus shoppers means functionality, cost-savings, and new revenue streams.

The northeast city of Burlington, Vermont is a cozy little college town; a tiny metropolis where pleasantries reign. Strangers smile and wave hello as they pass on the street; drivers stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks; neighbors band together to shovel snow in teams. But Burlington also is home to an outstanding campus card collaboration: a consortium that has combined multisite card services at the 9,400-student University of Vermont (UVM) with two smaller colleges, Saint Michael’s and Champlain. The effort, which began in January 2004 and grew again this past summer, extended the resources of UVM to two colleges with smaller campus populations and limited resources. While each school offers different campus cards, the three share the same card system, a CSGold suite from Diebold (www.diebold.com). Students, faculty, and staff members from any of the three institutions can use card-based debit capabilities at more than 100 merchants and restaurants in town, as well as at vending machines, laundromats, and copy centers on every campus. What’s more, UVM (the school managing the multisite system) has turned the effort into a new revenue stream, and earns $1 per student, per month from the two other schools that participate, or a guaranteed minimum of $47,000 per year.

“This collaborative card system really has revolutionized the way most of Burlington’s student population lives their lives,” says Mark McKenna, manager of the CATcard service center at UVM and one of the masterminds behind the effort. “It’s pretty amazing what you can accomplish on a broad scale when you work together toward a goal that benefits everyone.”

Getting Started

The consortium effort began back in the summer of 2001, when representatives from Saint Michael’s College in nearby Colchester contacted McKenna at UVM, while administrators at Saint Michael’s were researching options for a card system of their own. At the time, UVM was running its CATcard system via archaic technology from a now-defunct card vendor (Griffin), and the school was tinkering with the idea of investing in some new technology of its own. During the discussions, McKenna told UVM and Saint Michael’s administrators that he wanted a system capable of delivering debit card functionality to nearly 18,000 student, faculty, and staff users both on and off campus, a system through which he also could manage facilities access, off-campus purchasing, and a variety of other functions. Much to his surprise, the contingent from Saint Michael’s wanted some of the very same things.

Then it dawned on them: What if the schools collaborated on a system that served them both? UVM had in the pas entertained the possibility of hosting a card system for neighboring Champlain College, but dragged feet on both sides caused the idea to falter in critical planning phases. Now, however, McKenna had himself a willing partner, and renewed hope for a deal. Senior administrators from both institutions met to discuss specifics of collaboration. Behind closed doors, officials decided that the best way to link up the two schools would be to establish a dedicated T1 connection between UVM’s central processor and Saint Michael’s switch room. According to Dave Coseo, director of Purchasing and Auxiliary Services at Saint Michael’s, the rest was history.

“Once we set up the T1, we knew that, technically, we could do this without a problem,” he says now, looking back. “That was really the biggest obstacle to the entire project.”

Choosing a Vendor
Next came the process of picking a card vendor. McKenna and his colleagues at UVM had been in negotiations with Diebold for a while, and when they told Diebold execs about the need to incorporate Saint Michael’s into the system, the vendor suggested a new system, CSGold. McKenna estimates the system has cost UVM $150,000 for the server, software, cards, and database with unlimited capacity for growth; the database is a feature ideally suited to one school offering services to another. Diebold sales reps assured the schools that the system could manage two institutions through one Oracle enterprise server (www.oracle.com) and one CSGold transaction processor. Diebold company officials, including Mark Reinart, director of Marketing and Product Development, reviewed the plan and offered their support.

Where’s the Money?
The moral support was encouraging, but no amount of vendor enthusiasm would have helped the schools foot the $150,000 bill. Instead, McKenna and Coseo put their heads together and devised an ingenious strategy to defray the cost of the system, essentially paying for CSGold with revenues from sharing its capabilities. In a nutshell, Saint Michael’s agreed to pay UVM $2,500 per month for access to the system and all of its functionality, or roughly $1 per student, per month. (As with Visa or MasterCard, merchants also pay a transaction fee of 3.35 to 9 percent, depending upon the volume of business they do; the more business, the lower the rate.) With 2,200 Saint Michael’s students using the system, and room for growth, this arrangement would net UVM $30,000 per year. Coseo reports an initial investment of about $86,000 in infrastructure for Saint Michael’s, but this was money the college would have had to invest in order to accommodate any card system—let alone one they would have had to shell out $150,000 for, had UVM not come into the picture.

“By collaborating, we both saved a tremendous amount of resources up front,” agrees UVM’s McKenna. “What we gained was a solid revenue source—and the great publicity of a big state institution helping out a smaller college.”

Putting the Plan into Action

With a financing plan in place, the schools moved on to ironing out responsibilities vis-á-vis the new technology. First, UVM would maintain ownership of its central server and processor, but configured CSGold to allow Saint Michael’s cardholders to use their new “Knightcards” at on- and off-campus merchant locations throughout Burlington. (As with off-campus merchants around UVM and Champlain, merchants purchase their own card reader/printer equipment, or can order one through UVM, for about $180.) Saint Michael’s, for its part, would maintain ownership of its own database, as well as its own student information system, Colleague, from Datatel ( www.datatel.com). Saint Michael’s would develop extracts from the database and system that would work with CSGold. The college also accepted responsibility for troubleshooting any difficulties with its own technologies, and agreed to set up a campus card office to distribute cards and manage day-to-day operations.

Brandeis: Thwarting Identity Theft

No matter how different campus cards look on various campuses across the country, behind the scenes, just about every card system is tied to student ID numbers. The numbers are encoded in a magnetic stripe on the back of a card; they also appear in a database that catalogs certain user privileges across a variety of systems. When a student wishes to gain access to a dorm, for instance, she swipes her card in a reading device that reads the number, checks it against those in the database, and grants or rejects access accordingly. If the student's number is in the database, the system approves the request; if the number is absent, the system denies it.

At Brandeis University (MA), at least until recently, the ID numbers that drove the campus card system were students' nine-digit Social Security numbers (SSNs). Yet, with the rise in identity theft, students at Brandeis have recently grown concerned about their SSNs falling into the wrong hands on campus. With this in mind, campus services officials set out last June to transform the student ID numbering system forever. In July 2004, administrators settled on a new plan to switch the ID numbers from nine to 15 digits. New Brandeis student ID numbers begin with six standard numbers. The seventh digit indicates a student's year (all freshman are 6, for example) and the following eight are completely random, and share no connection whats'ever to student SSNs. The system—CSGold from Diebold (www.diebold.com) is capable of holding more than 100,000 15-digit IDs in all.

According to Rick Dovidio, associate director of University Services, the conversion process cost about $10,000: $7,000 for the new cards, and about $3,000 in labor. “These days, people can do a lot of harm with the right information,” he says, adding that the switch took about four weeks to complete. “We wanted our system to offer the latest in privacy and privacy control.

Next, of course, came the implementation itself. UVM and Saint Michael’s finalized their agreements toward the end of October 2001, and the partnership was set to go live in January 2002, so the schools worked fast to get the system up to snuff. In the end, the implementation took 72 days. UVM students already had their cards, but Saint Michael’s had to procure card stock, print cards, and encode each one with appropriate student ID data. Coseo and staff distributed cards before Christmas break, promising to have the system working when students returned. Today, Coseo recalls that the system went live on a Monday, although the Thursday prior, nothing worked. “It got a little hairy toward the end, but we did it,” he jokes. “Things have been better around here ever since.”

Champlain Antes In

As the collaboration has matured, it has attracted attention from other local Vermont schools. In August 2004, officials at Champlain College, the school that once entertained the possibility of collaboration with UVM, decided it was time to join the party. Aaron Videtto, Telecommunications administrator, contacted McKenna and expressed interest in signing on 2,500 new users—1,700 full-time students and 800 part-timers. For Videtto, the task was even easier than it had been for Coseo at Saint Michael’s: Because Champlain’s campus sits adjacent to UVM’s, officials had, years before, installed fiber optic cables for an Ethernet connection connecting the two schools.

Nova Southeastern: Uniformity as Goal

The University of Vermont, Saint Michael's College and Champlain College aren't the only schools that have come together to explore the benefits of multisite campus card services; at Nova Southeastern University (FL), officials are using a similar strategy to tie together the school's disparate campuses across the Sunshine State. The school's NSU Card program, based largely upon a hodgepodge of Integrated Data Management System (IDMS) technologies from a variety of vendors, enables students at the main NSU campus in Ft. Lauderdale to use their cards to purchase items from vending machines, pay for laundry, and settle other outstanding campus-related fees, such as library fines and parking tickets.

Currently, students at NSU's Kendall, North Miami and West Palm Beach campuses can use their cards to pay for copies and printing. But according to John Brucek, director of Campus Card Services, the main-campus card program ultimately will be extended to students at NSU's three other campuses across the state. Brucek says he plans to roll out all of the card system's multisite functionalities, perhaps even adding a system through which students and other users can add value to their cards on a Web site, via the campus network.

“Our goal is to mirror services we have on our campus, then grow the system by whatever means necessary,” he says. “Eventually, we want to bring complete functionality to everyone in our network.”

What makes the NSU program so unique is the dual functionality of its cards. While most schools utilize nothing more than magnetic-stripe cards, NSU employs both magnetic stripes and smart chips. All small-dollar purchases are handled by the chip, which enables students to add value in increments of $1, $5, $10, or $20. The magnetic stripe, on the other hand, controls more complicated functions, such as building access, meal plan usage, and more.

Brucek says that as the campus card system continues to grow, he will explore expanding the number of functionalities on the smart chip. Down the road, he foresees incorporating a biometric identifier, enabling distance education students to combine NSU Card authentication with fingerprint authentication to provide a system that enhances security and furthers the notion of multisite accessibility

This existing T1 connection enabled McKenna and his implementation team to launch the Champlain program quickly, after $9,000 in improvements to the equipment, and the CC-CashCard program was born. Champlain signed on at the same rate as Saint Michael’s: $1 per student per month, or a guaranteed minimum of $20,000 per year. Perhaps the toughest part of the Champlain installation was integration; Champlain uses an AS400 student management system from IBM ( www.ibm.com), necessitating special programming that facilitates a) the transfer of information into the Oracle database, as well as b) a number of custom flags to smooth synchronization into the CSGold processor. Champlain also utilizes proximity-based card readers from Best Access (www.bestaccess.com) to handle access control, another roadblock that required special attention. “When you’re building a system like this, you have to do whatever it takes to write your way around systems that won’t communicate,” Videtto says. “We’re piggy-backing off their system, so when they want to upgrade, they do it, and we need to just go along with it.”

Down the Road

So far, for all three schools, “going along” with the multisite campus card collaboration has paid huge dividends. Videtto deems “a shared knowledge base of information and skills” Champlain’s greatest benefit from participation in the multi-institutional collaboration. At Saint Michael’s, Coseo agrees, noting that his students now have access to services they “never could have dreamed of” without the help of a larger, richer institution such as UVM. And at UVM, McKenna gives the collaboration rave reviews of his own; not only has the deal established an annual revenue stream of at least $50,000 a year, it also has inspired the school to develop a plan for offering other IT services to Saint Michael’s and Champlain, as well as expanded card services to schools of all levels across the Green Mountain State.

McKenna reveals that he’s considering expanding the CSGold multisite card services consortium to incorporate Middlebury College in central Vermont, and nearby Norwich University in Northfield, down the road. He says he’s even considered trying to sell wireless ID-card-based services to Burlington-area elementary and secondary schools, all as part of the CSGold offering. First, though, UVM may go ahead and implement Diebold’s CSHousing, and roll it out to the consortium partners. McKenna says that with an additional $1 per user per month fee, UVM could capture an added $45,000 to $50,000 yearly.

“The trickle-down aspects of this whole project are pretty much limitless,” he says. “We have lifted the lid off the box and suddenly everyone is thinking about how they can make things better.”

Creighton: Going for Ubiquity

Debit functions on campus ID cards are nothing new to students at Creighton University (NE); Since 1997, school officials have enabled students to use the cards as cash through a program called JBucks. By storing funds on one of the cards’ three magnetic stripes, students have been able to pay for campus items such as laundry, copies, parking tickets, and flu shots. Now, however, with the help of Blackboard (www.blackboard.com ), students can bring this purchasing power into the Omaha community and purchase goods and services there, too.

Dubbed BbOne, the new system enables Creighton students to use their JBucks cards at a handful of off-campus establishments and stores, just as they would any other form of plastic. To participate, merchants sign up and purchase card readers that connect over the Internet to servers back on campus. At the end of every day, the servers automatically tabulate how much money in transactions a merchant conducted, and the server credits that amount to the merchant’s account.

“For the first time ever,” boasts Brenda Hovden, Creighton’s director of Card Services, “our students can use their cards to take their spending power off campus.”

Behind the scenes, the system also allows Creighton students to manage their JBucks funds in an online banking environment similar to those offered by professional financial institutions such as U.S. Bank (www.usbank.com) and Bank of America (www.bankofamerica.com ). What’s more, the system syncs up with a calendaring function that notifies students when it’s time to act on library fees, tuition, and other recurring issues.

The added capabilities are designed to enhance system usefulness. According to Tom Bell, VP of Industry Relations for Blackboard, the goal of the new capabilities is to make the campus card a more central part of student life, at Creighton and anywhere else BbOne is used.

“Our goal is to extend the services to the point where the card has real ubiquity,” he says. “As campuses look for ways to enhance the student experience, this will be a big issue.”

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