Waiting in line at OfficeMax to buy notebooks, you realize you’ve left your wallet on your desk back in Regis. The Stag Bus is pulling around any minute, you need these notebooks tomorrow for class and all you have in your pocket is a room key, StagCard and some lint. Whatever are you going to do?

If Fairfield follows a growing national trend, the answer could be, “Pay with my debit StagCard!”

Across the country, colleges and universities are striking deals with banks to turn their student ID cards into fully-functioning debit cards, according to an article in USA Today . These combination cards, not currently offered at Fairfield, are a convenience to students, but also provide notable benefits for the partner schools.

In these plans, a university partners with a specific bank exclusively, encouraging students to open up a checking account with that bank. Students can open the account without even leaving campus, and are usually given incentives such as T-shirts for opening the account. The student ID card then functions the same way as any other debit card.

In consideration for these partnerships, universities receive compensation in a variety of ways. According to the USA Today article, some schools are paid per student transaction or by total amounts on deposit, while others receive signing bonuses or fixed amounts.

The University of Minnesota currently has the largest deal, a guaranteed $1 million each year for encouraging its 28,000 students to open accounts.

While debit ID cards may be more convenient to students, many have questioned the motives of universities and financial institutions because of these deals.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, fresh off investigating potential conflicts of interest between universities and preferred-loan lenders, has recently begun investigating whether relationships between universities and banks are against the interests of students.

“Already, it’s readily apparent that schools seem to have chosen the partners based on financial benefits,” Cuomo assistant Benjamin Lawsky said in a recent statement about the debit deals.

At Portland State University, hundreds protested the university’s deal with partner Higher One, claiming the program forced students to sign up for an account that was more costly than other available services so the school could make money. Students pointed to costs, such as the 50-cent fee per transaction, as unreasonable.

Though Fairfield does not currently offer a debit card program, the StagBucks program, run in partnership with BlackBoard Inc., functions in many of the same ways, but with some key differences.

A StagBucks account is a deposit-only account, meaning cardholders may not withdraw funds in cash until they graduate. Cardholders can instead use the funds at any of the 28 off-campus merchants along with many on-campus locations.

There are no maintenance fees for a StagBucks account, and because cardholders cannot spend more than the balance of the account, there are also no overdraft fees. The program is supported by a portion of each StagBucks purchase being paid by the merchant to the University and to BlackBoard Inc.

Though Fairfield has been approached with offers of debit card services, the administration has reservations about entering into such partnerships, centering on security and control. Were a student to lose a bank-partnered StagCard, for example, it would take more than a trip to the Kelley Center to get a replacement. “If a card was lost or stolen, the cardholder would have to work with the bank to receive a new one – there would be no on-demand card production as is provided now” explains Mike Tortora, business manager for the Office of Administrative Services and Student Affairs.

Tortora also highlights the limited acceptance of the StagCard as a benefit for parents, the primary depositors to StagBucks accounts.

“Most of the locations accepting the StagCard provide necessities important for college students, such as stamps in the mailroom or cold medicine at CVS.” Some students find, however, that many of their regular purchases are not payable with StagBucks.

“I think my parents would be more willing to put money on my card if I could spend it at more places, like Stop and Shop,” said Kristen Bianco ’08.

Other students would prefer to keep their ID and their money separate instead of all on one card.

“I tend to lose stuff all the time, so it’s better for me to keep my money on a separate card,” said Kerrie Wilson ’08.

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