Students and faculty at Mercer University can ditch their plastic IDs, known as Bear Cards, for a digital version this year — if they have an iPhone or Apple Watch, that is.
A digital student ID can be added to Apple Wallet on the iPhone 6 and later versions or the Apple Watch starting at Series 1. The digital card program began May 20 after just over a year of planning, according to Ken Boyer, associate vice president for Auxiliary Services.
“The opportunity to add mobile credentials came about almost 14 months ago, when Blackboard Transact and Apple began working on this project,” Boyer said in an email Aug. 1. Blackboard Transact is the vendor that supplies card payment software to Mercer and other campuses.
Boyer said the digital cards will make it easier for students to keep track of their IDs, but those who prefer a physical card may hold onto it instead.
“Cardholders still have the option to choose the credential that meets their needs. If they want a card, use a card. If a mobile credential is better for you, use mobile. The choice is yours,” he said. “What I have found is folks may forget their card, but their phone is usually close at hand.”
Students who opt for the mobile option won’t need to worry about losing ID access if their devices’ batteries die, either.
“The new versions of Apple devices, according to Apple, have an additional power source that keeps the (near-field communication) chip powered even when the phone and other data functions quit when the battery dies, for approximately two to three hours,” Boyer said.
The near-field communication (NFC) chip is what allows mobile devices to utilize touch-to- pay services such as Apple Pay. The chip activates within a four-inch range of an NFC-enabled scanner, like those on doors and cash registers across campus, according to Digital Trends. This process is how digital Bear Cards will let users enter buildings, pay for meals and access vending machines.
External businesses that accept Bear Bucks as payment, such as Z Beans Coffee and Buffalo Wild Wings, have already been programmed to accept virtual Bear Cards.
Besides being easier to use, the mobile card will also register at a greater distance from scanners than a physical card, which must come in contact with a scanner.
Additionally, Boyer said going mobile offers Mercer a more environmentally-friendly option at “roughly the same cost” as printing physical cards.
Mobile credentials will also be more secure than plastic cards, in part because they require multi-factor authentication, according to a press release by The National Association of Campus Card Users, of which Boyer served as Board of Directors president in 2018.
Campus Technology reported that digital Bear Cards can be remotely deactivated by Mercer University or by the student themselves if an enabled device is lost or stolen.
Boyer said that Mercer has been working to reduce the need for mag-stripe technology, used in physical credit cards and Bear Cards, for about five years. Because this system infrastructure was already in place, the school was chosen to work with Apple, Blackboard Transact and electronic lock provider Allegion to offer the mobile card option this year.
“Mercer was the seventh school in the world to offer this option,” Boyer said. “We were a prime candidate for Apple to partner with due to the high percentage rate of Apple products used by the Mercer community.”
The mobile Bear Card is currently only available for Apple devices, but Boyer said Auxiliary Services has begun the process to enable access on other platforms as well.