Creating the Cashless Campus: Blackboard Transaction System

The cashless campus is nigh. At more than 450 schools around the world, the Blackboard Transaction System has replaced 20-dollar bills with technology, reducing the cost of campus commerce, streamlining systems, generating revenue, and producing unexpected peripheral benefits.

A transaction system is more than a cash card that deducts funds from a student's account. It has the power to replace cash and traditional commerce on practically every corner of campus—and beyond. It also closes the gap in the chain of services provided by course management providers and portal vendors.

Says Matthew Pittinsky, chairman and co-founder of Blackboard Inc., "Historically, transaction systems have been described as one-card solutions that would unify all card-based services. However, over time the software behind these solutions became smarter, until the real value of the system became not the card but the underlying transaction system." In other words, "It's not about the card. It's about the software behind the card."

A couple of years ago, Blackboard decided to add a transaction system as a natural extension of its learning and portal solutions. "We wanted students to be able to go to the bookstore [actual or online] looking for the book for their course and to purchase it as well," says Pittinsky. "We wanted students to find out about a concert through the campus portal and then buy tickets to that concert."

Installing the Blackboard Transaction System completes the circuit, so that gathering information and performing transactions flow seamlessly. Professors create their course materials lists within the course management system. The portal links students to their courses and required materials—be they digital or hard copy—which they can order online as well as in the bookstore.

From the students' and professors' perspectives, this is extremely convenient. From the university's perspective, it is both convenient and smart. By designating an official source for textbooks and supplies, campuses keep student money on campus instead of watching it flow to the off-campus stores. Transaction-system accounts eliminate the need for credit and debit cards, which cost campuses money. In addition, students can shop 24x7 and are more likely to shop more frequently.

The transaction system provides immediate online reporting. Campuses instantly know how much a user has spent and how it was spent. Students can track their accounts online, designating funds for particular needs (tuition, books, meals, miscellaneous). In turn, parents can limit not only the amount students can access but also where they can spend it. Online reporting also facilitates inventory management and simplifies sales projections.

The Blackboard system—which is available in both Windows and Unix versions—integrates and synchronizes campus systems. There are immediate financial and secondary benefits for the institution. First, it has the potential to eliminate the need for cash for many campus and off-campus purchases, including vending machines, laundry, meals, parking, copying and printing, and bookstore purchases. This not only reduces the costs of handling cash, but it can directly increase campus revenue: Students who don't need to scrounge for change for the laundry machines are more likely to spend money on other campus purchases.

According to Blackboard, where campuses have implemented the transaction system, revenue has increased. The company's research shows, for instance, that vending machine revenues go up with the cashless system, and that vending contractors often are willing to pay for the installation of card readers knowing that they will reap the benefits in higher sales. Convenient campus vending programs keep student money on campus.

In addition, campuses are experiencing additional peripheral rewards. For example, when cashless laundry machines replace coin-operated machines, vandalism decreases, pricing can be set to parallel the fluctuating cost of energy during the day, and no one has to haul around hundred-pound bags of quarters. Campuses that apply the transaction system to copying and printing get better reporting of printer/copier failures. They also have the option to set printer/copier costs according to their own policies, which may vary depending on the department or constituent. According to Michael Stanton, senior director of corporate communications at Blackboard, campus users tend to do more printing and copying with the cashless system than they did before.

In addition to the transaction system, which has been in place for about two years, Blackboard now offers Bb One, a transaction-based outsourcing solution that turns the university ID card into an off-campus payment card. Launched in early 2003, about 25 institutions have adopted the program so far. Bb One works with off-campus merchants to create a network of places where users can make cash-free purchases. Students and parents can make account deposits and manage their accounts online.

D'es eliminating cash make students, faculty, and staff safer? Perhaps—the system relies on PIN codes and swiping technology to verify user identity. There's a convenient online cancellation option if the user's card g'es missing; when reported stolen, a card becomes immediately invalidated. D'es the cashless economy make life simpler? Sure—and it means no more quarters to drag around.

For more information, contact Blackboard Inc., Washington, D.C.; (800) 424-9299; www.blackboard.com.

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