Why ACT Cards went digital

Monica Nakashima | @MM_nakashima, Staff Reporter

Beginning June 1, The University of Alabama required all members of the community to use digital ACT Cards, but the idea was planted before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Jeanine Brooks, the University’s director of ACT Cards, said the Student Government Association proposed a resolution requesting digital ACT Cards in 2017. 

The SGA resolution cited social media posts of students who said they were at a disadvantage without a physical ACT Card and pushed for a digital solution to these issues. 

“They forgot it in their apartment, they left it at home over the holidays, they lost it and had no idea where it was,” Brooks said. “Then they couldn’t eat or get into a lab room. It was very tragic.” 

Since students showed interest in a switch, Brooks said the University was invited to be one of the first three universities with digital cards in 2018. However, the digital system was new, so the University also issued physical cards “to make sure the program was stable and that people were comfortable with it.” 

“At that time, we were moving to NFC [near-field communication] technology, which is a tap card, and the office showed the SGA resolution to our vendor, Transact Campus,” Brooks said. “They were already trying to have conversations with Apple, so it all worked out in the long run.” 

When COVID-19 presented health and safety concerns to campus, Brooks said the card system in general was reevaluated to be safe for members of the community. 

The SGA resolution in 2017 cited health benefits as a reason for switching to digital cards, though Brooks said their report included references to stopping the spread of the flu rather than COVID-19. 

“It’s just a healthier environment where the user of the devices controls holding it and completing the transaction from start to finish,” Brooks said. 

Brooks said there were two other main reasons for the change: security and customer service. 

“We moved to NFC because it’s much more secure,” said Brooks. “Nowhere on your digital card is your CWID. We use an ISO number that looks like a bank card number that’s unique to each credential. So even if you lose your card, you get another credential.” 

Android users may not have NFC in their phone model, so the ACT Card office can issue them a physical card upon request. 

Digital cards also improved customer service interactions.

“It helps speed up lines,” Brooks said. “Before, it was frustrating because people would get to the front of the line and then look in their bag for their card. Now, everyone has a phone in their hand with their card.” 

Courtney Petrizzi is a communication specialist for the ACT Card office who said she believes the use of digital cards helps lessen the environmental impact. 

Students also no longer worry about paying a $35 fee when their ACT Card is lost, which was the charge for having a physical card reprinted. 

However, some students currently enrolled at the University feel the change was not sufficiently accommodating to those without smartphone access. 

“I just feel like a physical card would still be a great resource for those without phones or phones that are not updated enough for the software needed,” said Katie Traeger, a UA sophomore majoring in biology. “Additionally, it could be an issue of storage on our iOS devices for some of our students.”

Both Brooks and Petrizzi encourage students to reach out to the OIT office if they encounter any issues with the mobile card system. 

“If there’s ever a time when a student feels confused or unsure of this process, don’t hesitate to call us or message our office via social media,” Petrizzi said. “We’re more than happy to troubleshoot and make sure your device is functioning properly.”