Campus card systems are catching on with colleges and universities, which say the payment systems can help them save money and increase security.
North Central Missouri College began distributing financial aid in January by depositing the funds into students' campus card accounts.
Sharon Barnett, the college's vice president of administrative services, said the switch saves the expense of creating and mailing checks and "students now have access to their money quicker."
The Trenton, Mo., school, which had nearly 1,500 students during the spring semester, made 1,387 financial aid disbursements totaling approximately $2 million, she said. The college no longer issues paper checks to distribute financial aid and deposits funds into an account tied to the school's campus ID card.
"Checks cost approximately 9 cents apiece and postage would be 44 cents each, for a total of approximately $730," Barnett said.
Students can use the magnetic stripe ID card to check out books from the school's library, pay for doing laundry and shop at retailers that take Discover Financial Services cards. Students also are issued a Discover card, which links to the same account as the ID card.
The college uses Heartland Payment Systems Inc.'s Acceluraid disbursement service to manage the card program. Acceluraid enables universities to electronically distribute financial aid payments to accounts tied to student ID and general-purpose debit cards.
Shifting student financial aid disbursements away from checks is just one of many developments causing significant changes to campus card programs nationwide.
Lowell Adkins, the executive director of the National Association of Campus Card Users, said that contactless cards and smart phone systems are also expected to affect campus card programs.
Campus payment cards were originally developed as prepaid tools for small purchases. Since then, many schools have dabbled in smart card systems and cards tied to bank accounts and credit lines.
While most campus cards will continue to use magnetic stripes, "by 2015 contactless will become the preferred campus card technology, co-residing with a traditional mag stripe for off-campus merchant and banking transactions," said Robert Huber, a campus card consultant and the president of Robert Huber Associates of Scottsdale, Ariz.
More than 100 schools have implemented some form of a contactless application, most for door access, but near-field communication technology could increase schools' interest in contactless payments, he said.
Bill McCracken, the chief executive of the Atlanta financial services research firm Synergistics Research Corp., agrees that contactless options will increase in popularity because many students prefer not to have another piece of plastic added to their wallets, he said.
Schools slowly are starting to transfer the functions of their campus cards to cell phones. "The smart phone is the appliance of choice for Generation Y. If you can take this tool and add more applications for things students need, it becomes a practical service for students and universities," McCracken said.
Georgia's Columbus State University was one of the first U.S. schools to design a mobile application for students. University programmers last July teamed with Google Inc. to develop the application, which since September has enabled students' smart phones to serve as electronic campus ID cards supporting payments and other functions.
The school developed the application because so many students were losing their ID cards, which also served as a payment card, said Bob Diveley, the executive director of operations and infrastructure for the university's information and technology services group.
The application's two-dimensional bar-code technology "is similar to what airlines use on a boarding pass and doesn't change size from one phone to another," Diveley said.
Students can use their phones to check out library books or make purchases. Eventually, students could check their grades, see how much money is in their student account and use GPS to get directions.
Santa Clara University in California was the first to use Blackboard Inc.'s contactless university ID card, which supports payments and campus building access.
The card uses Sony Corp.'s FeliCa contactless technology, which also has been used in a number of NFC trials not involving campus cards.
Students can add to their accounts online, at stand-alone kiosks or in person at the student card office.
Morehead State University in Kentucky and its six satellite campuses have been using contactless technology since 2008. The school uses CBord Group Inc.'s Odyssey Privilege Control System campus card program and iClass readers deployed around campus, said Read Winkelman, CBord's vice president of sales.
Students can use their contactless cards to purchase meals, access campus buildings, buy books and obtain snacks from vending machines.