Since 1995, the University of Alabama has issued electronic debit and ID cards, called Action Cards, to its students.
These personalized, chip-and-magnetic-stripe plastic cards provide students with access to buildings and events, meals in the dining halls and spending money for on- and off-campus retailers. The cards also have a photo on the front for visual identification.
The cards are multifunctional and essential, yet, until recently, they were time-consuming during orientation to produce. The plastic cards arrive ready for activation of the magnetic stripe and chip and the input of the student’s name and photo.
But preparing a card used to require taking a photo of a student, saving and printing it, getting the chip ready to record data associated with that card and imprinting the mag stripe. It could take as many as five minutes to produce a card and check that the stored information was accurate. That may not sound like a lot of time, but those minutes add up quickly when hundreds of students are lined up each orientation session to have their cards created.
Not to mention: “The lines looked bad,” says Jeanine Brooks, Action Card director. “We didn’t want that to be [the students’] first experience at the university.” In addition, to ensure students could use funds loaded onto their Action Cards to pay for lunch during one of the 20-plus summer orientation sessions, the auxiliary services department had to work at breakneck speed.
Students would check in at 8 a.m. for orientation and the department had to have all of the Action Cards produced and ready for distribution by 10:30 a.m., when students broke for lunch, Brooks says. The department typically produced around 8,000 cards during those summer orientation sessions.
And the task was becoming more challenging. The university had 20,000 students in 2004—by 2014, enrollment had nearly doubled. Keeping pace with demand for Action Cards would soon have been a losing proposition and would have required at least four temporary employees to be hired during the summer just to produce cards, Brooks says.
After learning that other universities had taken card production online, Brooks made the change in 2010. With the help of the information technology department, the university developed a program in-house to enable students to log in remotely, enter relevant personal data and upload a photo they liked.
Now Action Card production takes one minute per card and the work can be spread out over the whole summer, rather than rushed as part of orientation. “We provide much better customer service with the new system,” says Brooks.