Loyola University in Chicago this fall plans to help make the areas around the campus safer by reducing the need for students to carry cash when the university updates its campus card program to include off-campus restaurants.

Loyola’s existing card program, which the school operates itself, enables students to purchase their meals at campus dining halls and to buy food at on-campus markets. The expanded program will enable students to use their Rambler Bucks prepaid account at participating off-campus restaurants.

Students, however, will not be able to use Flex dollars or the school’s Declining Balances program, both of which are tied to on-campus meal plans, Kathleen Steinfels, systems administrator for the Loyola campus card office, tells PaymentsSource.

Participating merchants will be subject to the same fees as non-Rambler Bucks purchases and will pay a “percentage commission back to the university to maintain the ongoing cost of the program,” Steinfels says. Steinfels declined to comment on the percentage amount.

The program expansion still is in the planning stages, but the university “hopes to have some off-campus locations [accepting] Rambler Bucks by the middle of the fall 2010 term,” Steinfels says.

And if the first phase goes well, the university plans to add more restaurants but does not plan to add other merchant types.

Despite the efficiency of expanding the card program to include off-campus merchants, the university is facing opposition from many of its students. Several students do not want to be able to use only Rambler Bucks off campus and not the other accounts tied to campus dining. Steinfels, however, believes expanding the program Rambler Bucks would help eliminate the need for cash, which would, in turn, make the campus safer.

And while students may complain about the nature of the card program, it provides a way for them to eliminate the need to carry multiple forms of payment, Bill McCracken, CEO of Atlanta-based financial-services research firm Synergistics Research Corp., tells PaymentsSource.

Several schools have even expanded programs to include open-loop acceptance through ties with Visa Inc. or MasterCard Worldwide as part of off-campus prepaid programs, McCracken says. Because of this, card companies “can get their names out to students, as it is now more difficult for card companies to place their credit cards with students,” he explains.

Plus merchants that operate on or near a university “ do not have to lose business and benefit from student spending,” McCracken adds.

The university did not say why it chose to not include an open-loop acceptance program.

Overall, “students want to simplify their financial lives. And to take these payment vehicles and meld them into one, it becomes a positive experience because they can carry one card instead of cash and multiple cards,” McCracken says.

Several other universities and colleges also similarly have expanded their campus card programs in recent months (see story).

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