Chipping away at the UCard: Magnetic strip to replace electronic chip

The U is cashing in its chips.

New UCards issued for Fall Semester will not have electronic chips in them. All cards-including the old ones- will now use the magnetic stripe on the back to hold money.

“Three years of budget cuts can’t support two methods,” said Kori Dehaan, student services director.

In the past, the chips were used for general commerce such as copies, printing and buying food from the cafeteria.

The magnetic stripe was only for resident hall meal plans.

But the cost of each chip was about $8 and new technology is now available to allow the stripe to handle all transactions, Dehaan said.

Because cards without chips are cheaper, they’ll now be only $10 to replace instead $20, she said.

Over the past two weeks, student services has removed all the green Cash to Chip machines and has replaced them with black Value Transfer Stations for the stripe.

There is now no way to put money on the chip. Klasina Scott, a biology major, learned about the change from signs in the library.

Richard Allred, a junior in electrical engineering, said he isn’t happy with some of the payment systems on campus and would welcome change.

Students are being asked to spend money they have on chips because starting fall 2004, there will be no machines to read the chips, Dehaan said.

U Cards with chips will not need to be replaced, she said, but the chips won’t be able to be used.

The stripe method isn’t new-the U has been using it for several years, but chips were considered more convenient when adopted in 1999.

“The chip was actually a successful program,” she said.

At that time, machines for reading the magnetic stripe had to be connected with special wires to the U’s host. That was too difficult and expensive. Now it’s possible to connect them to the host with the existing network, making the stripe cheaper, she said.

The new method may also make UCards more useful.

John Poelman, ASUU director of student services, is proposing a program where local business vendors could obtain the hardware to read UCards like credit cards.

This program would allow students to use the cards to make purchases and would provide a little advertising for the businesses, Poelman said.

“The benefit to students is great convenience. They won’t need to carry cash,” he said.

Allred said he wouldn’t use the program because he uses his credit cards for everything anyway.

Scott said being able to use the card would probably be an incentive to go to those stores.

The U will also charge the vendors more than credit-card companies for each transaction.

This will be a way for the vendors to contribute to the U and the money will hopefully be funneled into the scholarship budget, he said.

“It will increase community partnership,” he said.

The proposal has to be approved by next year’s ASUU leadership and administrators before it can be presented to local businesses, he said.

If it is approved, there may be no Hook Up Card next year. “It’s asking even more from merchants,” he said.

But if they did agree to it, Poelman thinks both programs would facilitate each other and he believes there’s support for both.

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