Campus cards move to mobile wallets

A growing number of schools are letting kids use digital wallets instead of plastic IDs

Kelly Dilworth
Personal finance writer
Specializing in new trends in credit

Campus cards are going digital

Soon, your college-aged kids may no longer need to carry a wallet full of plastic cards with them when they roam around campus. 

Instead, they’ll be able to unlock campus buildings, buy lunch or supplies and flash their student IDs using just their mobile phones – or their wearable devices.

Apple announced Oct. 2 it’s opening its mobile wallet app to campus ID cards that double as student payment cards. The student ID/payment card combos have been available at many college campuses for years. But until now, students often just had access to a plastic card version.

Students at select universities will be able to use their mobile phones or wearable devices, such as Apple watches, at any retailer or campus merchant that accepts them. 

“With access to the dorm, dining hall, gym, library and campus events using only their iPhone or Apple Watch, students can now leave their physical wallets behind,” said Apple in a news release. “Paying for supplies at the bookstore, for laundry or off campus for a meal has never been easier.”

Right now, only students at Duke, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Alabama will have access to Apple Wallet’s student IDs. But Apple is actively expanding its roster of campus partners. By the end of the year, students at John Hopkins, Temple and Santa Clara University will also be able to use their phones in place of campus cards.

If the program takes off, it could inspire other mobile payment companies to partner with universities on digital campus cards.

See related: Young adults shouldn't wait too long to get started with credit

Campus ID apps from smaller firms are already in use

Already, a number of smaller firms have introduced similar mobile apps for students who don’t want to have to always remember their college IDs.

For example, Heartland Payment Systems’ OneCard Mobile app functions as both a student ID card and a prepaid card for on-campus purchases.

So does the widely used commerce platform GET from the CBord Group. The GET mobile card app – which is available everywhere from Cornell to San Diego State – not only functions as an on-campus ID and payment tool, it also enables students to order and pay for food from off-campus eateries. 

Available on the iTunes app store and through Google Play, the GET app bills itself as a convenient alternative to the plastic student ID card.

“Be honest now: How much time do you spend thinking about your campus ID?” writes GET on its app page. “Now how about this: how much time do you spend thinking about your smartphone? We’re guessing it’s a lot more.”

See related: Student credit: 5 tips for parents – from parents 

Not accepted everywhere 

Right now, students are relatively limited in how they can use their digital campus cards. For example, you can’t use a GET app or a campus card loaded onto Apple Wallet at just any retailer. Instead, students are limited to merchants that explicitly accept university IDs.

The Action card at the University of Alabama, for example, is accepted everywhere from the Texas Roadhouse in Tuscaloosa to nearby urgent care centers – but it can’t be used outside Alabama. 

That said, students who use their digital campus cards on campus may find they like not carrying a wallet around. If more students get used to paying for everything via phone or through a smart watch while they’re still in school, they may decide to keep using mobile wallets long after they leave campus.  


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Updated: 10-17-2018