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8 Steps to Building a Robust Declining Balance Program with Your Campus Card

12/5/2023 9:00:00 AM

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some great examples of universities and colleges using their campus card as the hub for student life. At Mount Holyoke College, the OneCard system serves as the key to safety and security through access monitoring. The University of Alberta has used data from their ONECard system to identify trends in campus traffic and card usage to improve operations. At the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, their Cajun Cash prepaid account program via their ID card is increasingly how students pay for items on and off campus. And at Sheridan College, they have taken the Sheridan onecard mobile, enabling students and staff to add their campus ID to Apple and Android devices.

What is a declining balance program?

A prepaid or declining balance account is a closed-looped payment method tied to a student’s individual campus ID. Students and authorized users can load money into the student account to be used at vendors accepting “campus cash”. 

Common examples of where institutions take advantage of this type of account include dining, printing, and campus bookstores. However, the ability for vendors to accept campus cash is limited only by your imagination. A mature and robust campus card program enables students to use their declining balance account across all types of activities on and off campus including restaurants, retail shops, vending machines, laundry facilities, entertainment venues, student club initiatives, and more.

What are the benefits of offering a prepaid campus cash program?

Using the campus ID as a closed-loop payment method—similar to a credit or debit card, but without the fees—provides students with a convenient way to pay for goods and services, and gives parents a secure and trackable way to add funds to their student’s account. It also increases commerce on campus and generates more revenue for the institution. For more benefits, read our blog, 10 Ways Declining Balance Accounts Can Benefit Your Campus.

What are the steps to developing a robust declining balance program?

Developing a successful campus card program that encompasses both on-campus and off-campus vendors is a big undertaking, but with some upfront planning the pieces can come together smoothly. Here are the key steps to consider:

1. Establish objectives and goals: Define clear objectives for your campus card program. Determine what services and functionalities you want the card to offer. Understanding your goals will guide the development process. Additionally, having a strategic vision outlined with objectives and goals will go a long way as you build support and buy-in from the necessary leaders across your institution.

2. Consider budget, sustainability, and scalability: Develop a budget that considers the costs of technology, staff, and ongoing maintenance. Explore revenue models to make the program self-sustainable so that the program in and of itself is not an ongoing expense. Lastly, ensure that the program is scalable to accommodate future growth and technological advancements.

3. Envision the student experience: Think through student life at your institution and explore the day-to-day activities of students across campus. Explore how the campus ID and declining balance account could add convenience to a student’s interactions. The easier it is to pay for things with a campus card, the higher the adoption will be of campus cards. Other things to consider for a better student experience include:

a. Card issuance and distribution: Develop a system for issuing and distributing cards to students, faculty, and staff. This may include on-campus card offices and online ordering.

b. Mobile app integration: Consider implementing a mobile app that complements the campus card by allowing users to check balances, make mobile payments, store their campus ID in mobile wallets, and access other card services. Learn more at our blog, 7 Benefits of Campus IDs in Digital Wallets.

4. Identify vendor partnerships: Outline potential on-campus and off-campus vendors who are willing to accept the campus card as a payment method. Build partnerships and negotiate agreements with them.

5. Select technology that supports your objectives: Choose the appropriate ID management system that provides declining balance functionality and integrates with the appropriate hardware, existing campus systems, and vendor technology necessary to deliver the vision of your campus cash program.

6. Testing and piloting: Before a full-scale launch, conduct thorough testing and consider piloting the program with a smaller group of students. Getting early feedback from highly engaged users can identify bugs or hiccups with the program. This provides the opportunity to fine tune aspects of the program before rolling it out to the entire institution.

a. Payment devices: Determine how the users will physically complete an in-person transaction: magnetic strip, NFC, scan barcode/QR code, or other.

b. Financial integration: Ensure your campus card system can integrate with the financial infrastructure of your institution, allowing for secure transactions and accurate, real-time account updates.

c. Vendor integration: Some campus vendors manage all transactions through mobile apps. With the right integration, the campus card can often be set up to be a saved payment method within a vendor application.

d. Security measures and data management: Implement strong security measures to protect cardholder and transaction data. This includes encryption, authentication, and secure data storage.

e. Compliance: Ensure your campus card program complies with relevant financial regulations.

7. Training and support: Your frontline card office staff, or wherever the campus ID is managed, needs to be up to speed on the ins and outs of the new declining balance program so they can provide ongoing student support. Beyond the card office, consider hosting regular training sessions with other teams who have high contact with students, such as orientation services, student success, career services, advising, and residential life. This expanded training serves two purposes. First, it helps support students across the institution and, second, these offices/teams can help identify areas of improvement or additional use cases for the campus cash program.

8. Marketing and promotion: To encourage adoption of a campus cash program, students and other users need to know about the benefits. Work with your institution's marketing and student experience teams to determine the best places to promote the campus card to students. One of the most effective methods is to target first-year students before they’ve established their purchasing habits. Additionally, collaborate with student organizations and influencers to generate buzz and establish credibility. Hosting information sessions or workshops provides an opportunity to showcase the card's features, address questions, and foster engagement.

Buy-in from stakeholders and vendors across campus, as well as an effective marketing strategy, are crucial for the success of your campus card program. Additionally, staying up-to-date with emerging technologies and payment methods can help keep your program competitive and adaptable to changing needs.

TouchNet OneCard Campus ID is an identification, access, and declining balance payment system that runs in the cloud, syncs with your student information system, and manages the broad range of permissions, privileges, and financial authorizations required by modern campuses. To learn more about how OneCard can provide the foundation for your campus card program, contact us to schedule a complimentary demo.