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University of Vermont’s card program succeeds on two campuses

The CatCard program at the University of Vermont was a program worthy of emulation long before it achieved pioneer status by providing outsourced card program services to neighboring St. Michael’s College. But with the addition of the new relationship late last year, the Burlington-based institution is getting even more attention. The focus on the new services provided to St. Michaels, however, should not be allowed to completely overshadow the great successes of the UVM program from its inception.

The CatCard team had a big order fill when they first began the campus card program just a few short years ago. The University of Vermont gave the go-ahead to auxiliary service director Patty Eldred, but told her that the CatCard would have to function as an income and expense unit. That meant becoming financially self-sufficient—even repaying the initial infrastructure and system investments—in short order.

Remarkably, Eldred and her team achieved financial independence rapidly. They reached this seldom-accomplished feat by paying strict attention to costs and finding creative sources of revenue generation–sources such as the service they now provide to St. Michael’s.

UVM selected the CS Gold™ system from Diebold as the platform with which to bulid their card program. Today, nearly 10,000 cardholders can utilize their CatCard at more than 400 access, privilege, and financial points of control. According to Ms. Eldred, the CS Gold™ system has enabled UVM to, “construct the program like a business, charging various “clients” for the services they receive from the card office—and enabling us to become a revenue-neutral operation.”

The CatCard office owns and operates the hardware and software comprising the central processing system. Departments and vendors buy their own readers and then pay service fees to the card office for use of the overall system. Door access readers are billed at $200 to $400 per year depending on the level of service and monitoring required. Merchants are charged a percentage of the transaction amount just as they would be for normal debit or credit card transactions.

Both on and off-campus merchants acceptthe debit functionality of the card–known as CatScratch–for payment. The off-campus component of the program has been embraced by both students and the community with more than fifty area businesses on-board. Merchants participating in the program purchase a card reader and pay fees at a rate based upon the frequency with which they elect to receive payment for transactions conducted with the cards. Those receiving their payments monthly are charged a 6% transaction fee while those electing twice per month payments are charged 9%.

Last fall, the event that propelled the CatCard program into the national spotlight occurred. Eldred and her staff were providing a card system overview for colleagues at a neighboring campus, St. Michael’s College, in an effort to help the smaller private Catholic institution investigate campus card options. According to Eldred, the conversation turned to the difficulty St. Michael’s could have justifying the cost of a full-blown system. All participants realized that they could help each other build a stronger program and save money at the same time.

In short order, top administrators at each institution agreed that the partnership could work and a pilot test was initiated to validate the technical viability of the effort. A high-speed, high bandwidth T-1 connection was installed on the St. Michael’s campus to communication between the new readers on the campus and the existing UVM central processing server. The test succeeded and the project was on.

About 10 weeks following the signing of the agreement between the two institutions, St. Michael’s students were using their new cards at more than 100 locations on their campus, at locations across the UVM campus, and at the network of 50+ Burlington merchants. Team leaders at both campuses agree that the program has been an unquestionable success.

According to UVM’s CatCard Service Center Manager Mark McKenna, the system at St. Micheal’s operates just as it does at UVM. They have experienced virtually no delays or level of service issues. When asked if he would consider expanding the outsourcing model to other area campuses, McKenna suggested that both technically and operationally the team could do it without a hitch. He added, however, that it is not his decision to make.

With the great success of the CatCard team both on the UVM campus and the St. Michael’s campus, let’s hope they decide to do it again.

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