IOWA CITY — With the swipe of one card, many Iowa college students can eat dinner, buy snacks, wash a load of laundry, check out library books, photocopy homework, attend a football game, access a campus computer lab and open locked doors.
Identification cards have become that one-stop convenience on many campuses, with technology allowing one piece of plastic to perform banking, security and identification functions.
One card can include bar codes, multiple magnetic strips and proximity chips that all carry different coded fingerprints for students, faculty and staff.
“Students really enjoy that convenience of being able to use one card for everything,” said Carol Petersen, University of Northern Iowa’s interim executive director of residence and director of dining. “The more things they’re using it for, the more apt they are to keep track of it.”
Building access is a function many schools are adding to ID cards, using a “proximity chip” that allows the card to be waved in front of door systems for entry. The system replaces metal keys.
The University of Iowa is rolling out a new version of its Iowa One card that integrates such electronic door access using “proximity” technology. The UI has used electronic access on some campus buildings in the past 20 years but has issued a separate proximity card allowing people to get into the buildings.
The UI recently changed the banking vendor it uses for those who use their Iowa One card as a debit card and thought the time was right to include the proximity chip feature on the new cards. The change means students, faculty and staff no longer have to carry separate proximity cards.
Redesigned Iowa One cards were needed anyway due to the change in the banking vendor — to Hills Bank — so it was a good opportunity to add proximity access to the ID cards, UI officials said.
“There’s a convenience factor in having so many functions” on a single card, said Laurie Lentz, director of treasury information systems for the UI, noting the card is something students carry with them “all the time.”
A switch to the new card isn’t mandatory right now, Lentz said, but UI officials eventually want everyone to have the new Iowa One card, as electronic building access is upgraded and added to more campus facilities.
Switching to the new card is free, but there is a $25 charge for students to replace a new card if it’s lost or stolen. Faculty and staff aren’t charged for a lost or stolen card.
The proximity chip technology is more expensive than the old cards, but the contract with Hills Bank has the bank contributing $1 per card, up to 50,000 cards. Just the cardstock itself — the plastic card with the proximity chip — costs almost $4 per card, in addition to the laminate overlay, the printer ink and labor. The UI expects to issue about 45,000 cards, Lentz said. UI Hospitals and Clinics officials are not included in that total because they have their own ID cards.
The proximity readers for door access are now used on more than 1,200 campus doors in more than 60 UI buildings, including all of the residence halls, said Ann Rosenthal, associate director of building and landscape services in Facilities Management.
UI Facilities Management has spent $300,000 to $500,000 annually for the past three years installing the upgraded electronic access system on campus doors, Rosenthal said.
Installation of the electronic systems is more costly than mechanical keys, Rosenthal said, but they offer improved security and can offer cost savings in the long run.
In the past when someone lost a key, for example, a building may have been re-keyed to maintain security, she said. But with the electronic cards, access privileges to a lost card can be revoked with the press of a button.
The system also can alert UI staff to a door that isn’t locked when it should be, or a door that is propped open, Rosenthal said.
Officials at UNI, Coe College, Cornell College, Mount Mercy University and Kirkwood Community College said electronic building access is being added to their ID cards as more campus buildings use the technology.
“There’s a convenience factor on our end as much as the student end,” by being able to activate and deactivate cards via a centralized system, said Ryan Reinhart, director of residence life at Cornell College.
Another benefit of having electronic building access on campus ID cards is that each card can be granted different permissions, depending on what a student, faculty or staff person needs access to, Mount Mercy officials said. Also, the access can be changed during academic breaks or when a person leaves the university.
Such technology can show who has entered a building at certain times, if a security question arises, or can be used to track such things as when a dining hall is most busy.
Mount Mercy students and employees also use their ID cards for printing and copying. Once they go over the allotted number of pages, the card will charge them. Paper usage at Mount Mercy has decreased by more than 40 percent since that function was added to the ID cards, according to Emily Muhlbach, assistant director for communications and marketing.
Kirkwood students can use their Eagle Card as a debit card around campus and at two off-campus vendors, including a Hy-Vee store near the Cedar Rapids campus, said Student Services director Bobbi Hagist.
College officials get monthly reports on how the students are using the cards and at what vendors, she said.
“We just started having conversations here recently about what other ways could we utilize the Eagle Card,” she said. “What are our students looking for, that’s really what we want to know, and what would be of benefit to them.”