Strategic questions that every campus card director should be asking
By Robert C. Huber, CMC, CPCM, campus card business consultant
The pig in the python from Landon Jones’ classic, “Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation,” is the perfect visual analogy to underscore the dramatic global impact of a generation during its lifetime.
In 1980, Jones accurately chronicled and predicted numerous cultural waves from disposable diapers to electronic toys, intellectual games, clothing trends, loud music, revolutionary politics, organic food, vacation clubs, affordable transportation, distance education, fitness clubs, healthcare options and active retirement communities among others.
And generational trends are no less impactful today as they were with the Baby Boomers. Today, 60% of Millennials still live with their parents, most are single and most don’t own an automobile. Moreover, a staggering 90% own at least two mobile devices and keep at least one charging hub in their bedroom.
Still comfortable with their overly protective “helicopter parents,” Millennials continue to generate cultural shifts throughout our society – sparking trends in digital technology, team workplaces, wireless media, mobile payments, mobile device usage, advertising, team decision making, job entitlement, anti-smoking, healthy eating, debt evasion, parental reliance, and challenging conventional business practices.
With the volatile mixture of the relentless cravings of Millennials and their helicopter parents, and the undeniable explosion of technology, the 30-year old Campus Card Industry finds itself at a crossroads. It must either dramatically transform itself into a more relevant Virtual Credential Services (VCS) provider in the way that eTickets have done, or it will be purposely discarded from future consideration and be replaced by other FinTech options promoted by the neurotic social media echo chamber.
To avoid obsolescence we believe campus card programs, systems and operations must begin to strategize, transform and position their ecosystems and do so before the class of 2020 leaves their provisional nest. Mounting evidence from Beloit College’s latest Mindset List and RHA’s “Campus Card Industry Business Forecast” echo this, with the Beloit’s Mindset list aptly describing Millennials as “an impatient generation learning how to be patient.”
As a first step, campus card directors and their respective business and student affairs administrators should schedule face-to-face – that’s in person, not Skype – meetings complete with whiteboards and strategic campus thinkers. Encourage a temporarily text-free zone and provide munchies and caffeine to maintain the energy level and creativity. As with U.S. Supreme Court hearings, this group’s initial meeting is not to make decisions, but rather honestly consider, ponder and value questions that need to be asked about the overall operation and the institutional ownership.
But why pool campus minds and ask these difficult questions in the first place? The Baby Boomer and Millennial generations have both changed the world, and the next generation is about to decide whether to attend class or just send their drone instead. So it’s vital that campus card offices open the future-proofing dialogue now to determine the role of the campus card operation going forward and to prepare for this next generation of college students. For starters, ask these questions:
What if our campus card vendor is sold?
The world, including the campus card industry, has evolved from 30-year private companies to private equity firms and mega international corporations. You may still be in love with your current provider, but ask what is being done now to insulate your campus card ecosystem in the event your card system vendor is acquired? What is your plan if you don’t get along with the new in-laws?
Proprietary vendor hardware: A wise investment?
Thirty years ago, changing a campus card vendor required new campus wiring, hardware, software, card readers, a recarding of your campus, and the manual encoding of all cards and transferring of account balances. This was all provided that everyone on the conversion team could stay awake all weekend doing the work and were 100% accurate. If your campus card vendor is sold or acquired by a competitor, what existing proprietary hardware, if any, is guaranteed to be supported by the new vendor and for how long?
Do we still need residence hall laundry readers?
If you’ve ever lived in a residence hall, you know that local students tend to leave campus every Thursday or Friday, taking their dirty laundry home with them. Many institutions have simply mandated laundry fees as a means to providing a predictable revenue source, updated the appearance and safety of their laundry room facilities, and they’ve accomplished this all without any real parental objection. Why pay someone to be on-call during the weekends to care and feed laundry reader systems and fill change machines?