Off-campus OneCard program canceled

“Beginning Aug. 15, community vendors (off campus) will no longer accept your Mercyhurst OneCard as a method of payment,” was a line in an August letter to students, which called it quits for the six year off-campus OneCard program.

Since the fall of 2005, students have been able to swipe their OneCards at restaurants and stores throughout the area, utilizing stipends and funds placed on their cards at a variety of places.

Alex Stacey photo: The off-campus OneCard program had been available to students since 2005.Alex Stacey photo: The off-campus OneCard program had been available to students since 2005.

“In the beginning, the only real expectation that was placed on the program was that it needed to pay for itself,” OneCard Supervisor John Patterson said.

“We started initially with one modem and four terminals, and ultimately ended up with four modems and 36 terminals,” said Patterson. “Several locations have more than one terminal, so we didn’t have 36 vendors, but the program did grow.”

Modems are the servers that store information and let locations know how much money an individual card has. Terminals are the card swipe systems that each location has.

Over the summer that all changed, which took even Patterson by surprise.

“I am disappointed,” said Patterson. “When I received the answer it was made pretty clear that the program is done.”

The decision to cancel the program was reached over the summer after the program failed to pay for itself during the 2010-11 school year, which was the first year that the program failed to do so.

Director of Student Financial Services Carrie Newman said the changes were made on how tuition refunds could be placed. They are no longer going through the OneCard office, but directly through the bookstore, where many students used their refunds to purchase books and supplies.

“Last year, we streamlined our position directly with the bookstore so the bookstore would know if the student had a balance or not, allowing the student to go directly to the bookstore,” said Newman. “It stopped being a triangular relationship.”

In fact, during the first few months of term, Patterson was able to record the decrease of spending in the system.
“As the year was starting to close, I was running my numbers and it was as I expected, not enough to cover the costs and fees,” said Patterson. “Last year, we lost money because transactions decreased, which the budget covered, but the revenue wasn’t enough to balance it out.”

In response to the failing system, Patterson began researching cost saving measures that would counteract the decrease in spending.

“I started looking for other ways of dealing with the system,” said Patterson. “I created a proposal for a different way of running an off-campus program.”

“I proposed an off-campus system that would completely replace the system we have now, reduce the costs to operate it and basically provide a better service to the students and the vendors,” Patterson said.

Though Patterson submitted the proposal for the new program, the college still decided to cut it.

“The answer came back that we were just not going to have an off-campus program,” said Patterson. “It’s not profitable enough.”

Newman was ultimately the one who made the call to cut the program.

“Last year the program declined greatly, and we took a look at it and decided from a profitability and cost benefit kind of analysis that we could use our resources in better ways than keeping it going,” said Newman. “Our position is that we still want our students to utilize our off-campus vendors, but the profitability to linking it to the OneCard was not working for us.”

While the new system may have been cheaper, Newman said all the costs were not included in the proposal.
“I don’t think all the costs were included in that proposal, the largest being the cost of having an administrator from our offices run the program, which would have eaten away all the profits,” Newman said.

Both Newman and Patterson were concerned for the best interests of the students, but Patterson was also concerned for the vendors, with whom he built a rapport.

“I told them that some vendors come in for more than just the off-campus program: advertising in The Merciad, backer boards for the hockey team, banners for football and items to support the school on move-in and welcome week,” said Patterson. “The whole reason that they were here on campus was because I maintained a relationship with them.”

Patterson said that he knows of some companies that have fallen away from the college, including both Country Fair and CVS, which were both absent for Welcome Week.

“CVS was very upset,” said Patterson. “I even received calls directly from CVS Corporate in Rhode Island, as well as the Country Fair corporate office in Erie.”

The letter students received from Student Life said that lower student spending was “rendering the service less beneficial to vendors, students and the college,” but Patterson was confident that none of the vendors wanted out.

“Not one vendor wanted out,” said Patterson. “When the notice went out to the vendors, all of them responded wondering why it was being cut.”

Patterson said that he would take back his proposal if it meant that the program would still be running.

“Maybe this year it would have turned around, but I didn’t think that was a very responsible risk for me to take,” said Patterson. “The new program could be a win for the college, a win for the vendors and absolutely a win for the students.”

Patterson encourages students to speak up if they want the program back. “If there is enough student support for the program, I don’t know how they could not bring it back,” Patterson said.

Junior Ricky Tannert frequently used his OneCard off campus.

“It was a bad idea to take the OneCard options away. They don’t realize that upperclassman don’t eat on campus. I still use outside vendors, but now I have to manage my own accounts. Using my OneCard was easier and more convenient for me,” Tannert said.

Senior Courtney O’Brien agreed.

“The program was convenient. It was not like spending real money. Now I really don’t use vendors. Instead I do more grocery shopping,” she said.

Newman reassures students that the decision was made to help, not hurt.

“We are looking to increase student happiness, not decrease it, so I do apologize for any surprises on the off-campus program, because we do want our students to utilize our off-campus vendors,” said Newman. “For the most part, the numbers that we were getting for student utilizing the program were not really great to begin with.”