Some 8,200 full-time students attend Columbus (Ga.) State University, and generally 7,700 are logged in at any particular time to a mobile application that enables their smartphones to serve as electronic campus identification cards that support payment and other functions, schools officials say.

Programmers at the school teamed with Google Inc. last July to develop the application, which became available to students in September. The school decided to develop the application because so many students were losing their ID cards, which also were credit cards.

“Students would lose their cards and then deal with someone else finding it and stealing money,” Bob Diveley, executive director of operations and infrastructure for the university’s information and technology services, tells PaymentsSource.

Moreover, students do not necessarily want to add another piece of plastic to their wallets, Bill McCracken, chief executive of the financial services research firm Synergistics Research Corp. in Atlanta, tells PaymentsSource. “The smartphone is the appliance of choice for Generation Y,” he says. “And if you can take this tool and add more applications for things students need, then it becomes a win-win solution for both the student and the university.”

The application uses two-dimensional barcode technology that “is similar to what airlines use on a boarding pass,” Diveley says. “Because cell phones have different sized screens, the size of the barcode doesn’t change from one phone to another.”

The application, which can run on virtually any smartphone, enables students to use their mobile phones to debit the cost of meals at various campus locations, buy books from the school’s bookstore and check out books from the university’s library, Diveley says. Eventually, the application will enable students to check their grades, check how much money is in their student accounts and use a global positioning system to find their way around campus, he adds.

To use the application, students log in via their mobile phones and click on their electronic ID card, which includes their photo, signature and the barcode. “When students take their phone to an event or to eat, they just hold the cell phone up to a reader, which scans the barcode and debits the students’ account,” Diveley explains. Additionally, because the application involves a login, if a student forgets his phone, he can use a friend’s phone to access his own information, Diveley notes.

The university installed handheld readers able to read first, second and third generation barcodes, Diveley says.

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