A campus card used as a debit card has turned students who don't have cash in their pockets into students who don't need cash in their pockets.
With just a slender electronic card, students can go for weeks on campus without a dime in their pocket. They simply deposit a sum into an account, then swipe the card to withdraw as needed.
College debit cards began in the late 1970s as a way to replace cumbersome meal-ticket cards that required punching, said Lowell Adkins of the National Association of Campus Card Users.
Evolving and spreading over the years to about 2,000 U.S. campuses, such cards can be used to purchase books, items from vending machines and almost anything else with a price tag.
The card also opens doors — literally. World events after 9/11 made colleges more security conscious. A swipe of the card gives students access to areas such as classrooms, dorms and athletic centers, while strengthening campus security.
University of Nebraska
Though it can be used like a debit card, the MavCard at the University of Nebraska at Omaha is not a debit card because students there did not request that a banking relationship be added to the card, said Brian Bollich, assistant director of the UNO Milo Bail Student Center. Instead, money is placed in an account at the university's MavCard Services Office. Students pay a $6.25 fee each semester to carry the card.
They are encouraged to carry it while on campus, because it serves as a student ID card. Faculty and staff also have MavCards.
Bollich said he cannot think of any disadvantage to using the MavCard. Advantages are many.
“Students get into Mav games for free only if they have the card,” he said. The card also can be used to purchase parking permits and to pay fines, library fees, buy snacks and meals from food service, make purchases at the campus bookstore, and for other purchases. Students also use it for entry to residence halls and the fitness center.
Ten nearby stores accept the MavCard, which was introduced off campus last fall, said Mary Lynn Reiser of UNO's Center for Economic Education. Being able to use the campus card off campus is a convenience for students, she said.
At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the identification card is named the “NCard.” Students, faculty and staff can link their card to a Wells Fargo Bank checking account to make purchases on and off campus. The NCard also can work as an ATM card.
Two features come with the card used at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Students can deposit money in a Loper Dollars account for purchases at some on-campus locations. If the student links a Wells Fargo checking account to it, the UNK Card becomes a Visa check card usable on and off campus.
College of St. Mary
At the College of St. Mary, the campus card was introduced in 2006, said Jason Degn, vice president for institutional technology.
He said the multifunction card was introduced for many reasons, including to secure and track usage of particular locations, reduce the need to replace keys and help control campus printing and copying expenses.
College of St. Mary students are required to obtain and carry the card, which also is used for identification.
“But they are not required to load any money into it,” said Sarah Kottich, vice president for finance and administrative services. “This is a convenient way for parents to provide money to their student for use on campus such as at the bookstore or coffee shop.”
Students on Creighton's downtown campus use the JayBuck$ card for purchases on and off campus.
The students' ID cards also can serve as ATM cards if they sign up for a free U.S. Bank student checking account. But they are not required to do so, said Brenda L. Hovden, director of Card Services.
“The U.S. Bank account is optional. It is utilized most by families from outside the Omaha area,” Hovden said. “It allows parents to deposit at a U.S. Bank in their hometown and the student to access it here.”
Uses of the debit card stretch from the laundry room to a latte at Java Jay. Creighton students need the card to enter residence halls and some campus buildings and parking areas. Library fines are paid with the JayBuck$ card.
At off-campus sites, students use the JayBuck$ card to buy gas for their car, a sandwich for their stomach or pizza for their soul.
Why a debit and not a credit card? Credit cards may help students build a credit history, but if students don't pay off the debt in a timely manner, their credit reputation can end up in shreds.
Debit cards help students control spending. When the amount deposited runs out, so does the card.
As UNO's Bollich noted, “It's a very valuable piece of plastic.”