U card is good, but needs work

Your key to the campus can be really useful or a big pain.

Every University student remembers freshman orientation ” icebreaker games, tours and getting a U Card with an unflattering picture on it. The U Card is a great concept: Students use it to get meals, as a cash card, a library card, and can put money in an account to use for making copies and in vending machines ” the “Gopher Gold” program.

This particular function can be useful. Just put a few bucks on a U Card at a “Cash to Card” machine and use the U Card everywhere. But copies on campus generally are 10 to 15 cents per page and the incidence of “card-eating” at vending machines is absurdly high, and the program loses some of its appeal.

U Cards are not cheap to replace. Students shell out $15 for a replacement card if it’s lost, stolen or damaged; there is no charge if the card won’t hold encoding or has reader or lamination damage or if the student’s name has changed. Any money on the Gopher Gold strip is lost with a new card. A student who just put $50 ” the maximum amount allowed ” on his or her U Card, only to have it stolen, cannot get that money back. While each vending machine has a number to call if a student gets ripped off trying to purchase a snack, the turnaround time for reimbursement is long and most students do not make the effort to reclaim their money. Vending machines have been known to “eat” U Cards and Gopher Gold cards, and when coaxed to return them via strategic pounding, tend to erase whatever money was left on the stripe. So much for the convenience of not carrying loose change.

The University likes to call the U Card every student’s “campus key.” But there remain some snags with the system. The balances on the Gopher Gold system should be centralized so students with stolen cards can be reimbursed and their old cards deactivated. Card-eating vending machines should be tested and serviced regularly to avoid wasting everyone’s time trying to reclaim a buck or two, and every U Card should come with a holder initially, to avoid stripe-reading problems in the future.