Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

February 2, 1995

New, more versatile ID card is planned for staff, faculty, student

A year from now, students and employees could have new Pitt identification cards enabling them — with the swipe of the card across a computerized reader — to charge meals and books to their personal University accounts, draw cash from automatic teller machines, and gain access to Pitt events and buildings.

Those are some of the services envisioned by a design team of faculty, staff, students and administrators that has been working since fall on a proposal for a new Pitt ID card.

The team plans to give its recommendations to University senior administrators in mid-February, said ID card project director Dennis DeSantis. The goal is to have a new system in place by this time next year, he said. Currently, Pitt's ID Center assembles cards from a paper application form and a photograph, heat-sealing them together in plastic. Application forms are printed in Pittsburgh and must be mailed or delivered to the University's four regional campuses, which means regional students and employees may have to wait for days for replacement cards.

Among the other complaints about current Pitt cards, according to the ID card design team: They require new validation stickers each term, they reveal the card holder's Social Security number (neither of those things would be necessary under the envisioned system); the bar code on the back of the card doesn't scan well because of the protective laminant, and Pitt prints the cards on a machine that is obsolete and soon may be unavailable.

"The vendor we bought the printer from has notified the ID Center that, as of June 30, it will no longer be marketing these machines or extending the service contract on them," DeSantis said. "We're working with CIS (Pitt's Office of Computing and Information Services) to print the applications on a laser printer, if we have to, until we can get a new system in place." But whether the ID Center's machine holds up or a laser printer is used, Pitt's current ID system is outmoded compared with those at many other universities, DeSantis said.

"ID cards of the 1990s have a different look and feel," a draft report by the Pitt ID card design team notes. "Standard plastic bank card formats with digitized photos have replaced the old film insert and laminant cards. Magnetic stripes are the norm. Bar codes sometimes supplement them. Gone are the old validation stickers. Card surfaces are clean and smooth, nothing to catch in the new readers into which cards will be inserted daily. The new ID links validation check to a card swipe which will access a database that will reflect a change of status instantaneously." While future ID cards may hold huge amounts of data in a tiny embedded computer chip, "this technology is still in its infancy and represents a costly alternative whose value is yet limited," the design team wrote. With pressing needs, Pitt should use ID card technology that already exists and has proven reliable, team members said.

According to the draft report by the ID card design team, the group "envisions a system under which a single card could provide access to all campus services, facilities, and events via a networked database system within the parameters laid out in the Information Architecture report," which last year outlined an overhaul of Pitt's computerized information services.

Supported by a central card administration office, the new University ID would also move the campus toward an environment with fewer cash transactions by allowing students and employees to maintain a debit account that could be accessed both on and off campus, the report stated.

A new ID system will require new cards (and photos) for some 34,000 students and 9,000 staff and faculty members — "a very big job," DeSantis allowed, but one that might be partly underwritten by banks, software producers or other businesses that could benefit from the changeover, he said.

The design team has met with a PNC Bank representative and a campus bank card consultant from Atlanta, and plans to meet with staff from other financial institutions to explore University- and bank-controlled debit account systems, said DeSantis. Design team members also attended an ID card conference run by Florida State University, one of the leaders in campus ID technology, and visited Indiana University of Pennsylvania to see their new card installation.

To get advice from the University community, the design team has interviewed and sent written questionnaires to staff and faculty at the Pittsburgh and regional campuses. In November, the team held information sessions in the William Pitt Union ("Attendance wasn't very good, but we received some valuable input," DeSantis said). And the group is holding focus group sessions with dorm, graduate and international students, as well as evening students from the College of General Studies.

— Bruce Steele

Leave a Reply