UCard system gets a reboot

By Alyssa Creamer

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Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

Students no longer have to worry about their UCards’ strips wearing down.

In 2010, the University of Massachusetts Campus Card (UCard) system began upgrading the campus ID’s capabilities to include a “contactless chip technology,” known as iClass.

Since the upgrades began two years ago, nearly all UCards currently contain the iClass chip, which connects with a proximity card reader. This technology allows students to tap their cards, rather than swipe the UCard’s magnetic strip, for access into housing facilities, according to an campus-wide email sent from the UCard office.

The UCard is designed to be the “one-card” on campus, according to the University’s website. In keeping with this mission, the University has also replaced campus swipe readers in its dining services and retail services cash registers. It also has altered the technology within campus vending machines to allow their sensors to read the iClass taps.

All switches have been made, save for a few vending machines’ card readers slated to be hooked up within the coming months, according to Jacqueline Watrous, the executive director of admin services in UMass’ administration and finance department.

The new card readers’ installations also extend to campus convenience stores and laundry machines.

The card and card readers’ technological overhauls came as a result of the University’s switch from the UCard system it used since 1996, known as Blackboard. The University started exploring new options for a technological upgrade as the Blackboard contract approached its expiration, Watrous said.

“The system was at the end of its life,” said Watrous. “It was time to go out and see what else was out there.”

Last summer, a school-wide survey was emailed to students asking for their input on the UCards. Watrous said the answers helped University officials create a framework for the type of new system they would seek after.

On Aug. 8, Blackboard was entirely replaced with a system called CBORD, a campus and cashless card system provider.

The replacement of both hardware and software for the switch cost between $1 to $1.2 million, Watrous said. This does not include the costs of the wiring involved in the system shift.

Student and staff members that have UCards from before 2010 will be emailed instructions on how to upgrade their cards.

Students without a new UCard – like those who have not lived in dorms after 2009 – will need to get a new card if they moved back on campus this year as all residential dormitories will only respond to the iClass technology. Any student living off campus who wishes to use the campus vending machines must also upgrade.

The upgrade costs $10 as long as students can present their old UCards at the UCard office, located in the Whitmore Administrative building.

Faculty members who haven’t received a new card in the last two years are also required to get new cards. However, faculty members will not be charged a fee..

Storie Libby, a senior English major and a supervisor at the UCard Office, said she’s heard a number of student complaints about the UCard’s magnetic strip fading from how often they were required to swipe them.

Students whose UCard’s strips wore away were required to pay fees for replacement cards.

“Switching over to a system where there is no contact involved will help keep the cards in better condition longer,” said Libby, who has worked at the UCard office for the last four years.

She also said that in previous years, students’ storage of their cards in wallets also took a toll on its preservation.

Libby and her staff exchanged the old card readers in vending machines with the new proximity card readers throughout the summer.

“It cost a lot,” Libby said. “Quite a bit, which hopefully will pay off. I think it’s more that the University is trying to be technologically up to date.”

Currently, damaged UCards cost $10 to replace and $25 to replace if lost or stolen. Prior to the installation of the iClass chip, damaged cards were $6 to replace and $20 if lost.

“The price went up because it costs more to purchase cards with the chip inside them,” Libby said.

Alyssa Creamer can be reached at [email protected]