In what is believed to be the first experiment of its kind at a U.S. school, students and staff members at Pennsylvania’s Slippery Rock University soon will be able to use their cell phones to make payments at locations on campus, as well as with participating merchants in the surrounding community, by attaching a small radio-frequency identification (RFID) token to their phones.

The RFID tokens can be attached, for example, to the inside of a cell-phone’s battery cover. When a token is held up to an RFID receiver, the receiver captures the student’s or staff member’s ID number from the device. The ID number then links to the user’s school bank account via the internet.

“Since its inception in 1889, Slippery Rock University has been on the leading edge of educational innovations,” said Robert Smith, president of the university. “We are excited to … implement this new technology and know it will deliver a level of speed and convenience our students demand.”

Students must enter a personal identification number in addition to scanning their phones in front of an RFID receiver. The receiver then connects to the school’s bank to authorize the transaction.

RFID-equipped phones must be held very close to payment receivers to capture ID numbers and process payment transactions, a fact that advocates of the technology say offers greater security.

The system’s mobile-phone tokens incorporate the same standards-based “contactless” technology used worldwide by MasterCard, Visa, and card issuers in the payment and identity sectors.

The RFID system to be employed at Slippery Rock was supplied by Heartland Payment Systems. The system uses near-field communication, a short-range wireless technology intended for use in devices such as cell phones and digital cameras.

The system will be put in use beginning this fall.

“Students are great innovators, yet for the past two decades, payments on campus have remained fundamentally unchanged,” said Robert O. Carr, chairman and chief executive officer of Heartland Payment Systems. “We are excited to partner with Slippery Rock to help launch the next generation of campus card programs.”

Slippery Rock students currently use photo ID cards with a magnetic strip to make purchases. When students enroll at the university, they open a Rock Dollar bank account, into which they can deposit money. When students use their current ID cards, money is deducted automatically from their Rock Dollar accounts. Students can track their spending online and can allow their parents to access their accounts.

University officials say the cards and RFID tokens are available to all students at no cost.

During the summer, campus vending machines, laundry facilities, photocopiers, and printers will be outfitted with dual-technology readers to enable contactless payments via mobile phones in addition to the traditional ID card payments.

Campus officials say they’re implementing the RFID system so students will have a way to pay for items, even if they don’t have their wallets or student ID cards with them. Officials also believe that the system will be even faster than the current swipe-card method of payment.

“We anticipate that our work with Slippery Rock University this summer will generate major interest from other campus administrators and local merchants, as they see the benefits and opportunities for improved student service, and administrative and payment cost savings,” Carr said.

Heartland Payment Systems, based in Princeton, N.J., is a provider of credit-, debit-, and prepaid-card processing services. The company has served as Slippery Rock’s payment processor for 10 years.


Slippery Rock University

Heartland Payment Systems