This August, the replacement fee for the UAA Wolfcard increased from a flat rate of $10 to $20. This was implemented as an effort to compensate for budget cuts and locate another source of revenue, according to Brian deZeeuw, the financial systems administrator of the Wolfcard office.
“Last fiscal year, we found out — just as we’d expected — that most of the departments on campus would get another decrement in our budget,” deZeeuw said. “My supervisor, Sandi Culver — she’s the [associate vice chancellor] of Financial Services — asked all of her departments to look for other sources of revenue. I knew right off the bat that we weren’t going to have enough money to pay for the Blackboard license fee… The Wolfcard replacement fee is my only revenue source.”
The Wolfcard office’s budget is put towards labor and the license fee that is required to operate and maintain the Blackboard system. This also covers utilities such as card readers and printers, software support, door locks, card readers and more.
Unlike other departments, the Wolfcard office depends on gaining revenue solely from the replacement fee.
“Some departments are auxiliaries, like the bookstore, where they sell books to make money, but the Wolfcard office doesn’t get any money other than the Wolfcard replacement fee,” deZeeuw said. “The only money we get is from the normal budget process from the state every year.”
deZeeuw had researched other viable ways to find sources of revenue, but they had been unsuccessful.
“Another option was to try to get some money from a fee. There are a lot of different student fees and currently none of those fees give any money to the card office operation, so I reached out to the information technology department to see if I could get any money from the tech fee. The tech fee is that $5 per credit hour that students pay up to $60 a semester,” deZeeuw said. “I thought it was worth a try because I didn’t want to have to raise any sort of fees… They said no, that it wasn’t going to happen in the short-term but they could revisit it sometime in the future.”
Geser Bat-Erdene, USUAA vice president, said that he wishes he had better insight into the decision to raise the replacement fee. deZeeuw had attended a USUAA general assembly meeting on Sept. 15 to discuss the new fee increase but only after the change had already taken place.
“If he decided to do it that way, one issue that student government has is that students weren’t aware of such change. Even the situation [where] we didn’t know was kind of confusing,” Bat-Erdene said. “That’s exactly why we invited him to attend our meeting and present that situation. That was the first time we’d encountered that news.”
Maintaining communication and transparency is important to Bat-Erdene and USUAA, particularly when changes such as the replacement fee increase affect students.
Josiah Nash has been living on campus for three years and although he has yet to lose his Wolfcard, he said that the new fee could be a burden on the wallets of residential students.
“This can have a very negative effect on residential students who rely daily on this card to get into their residence halls, individual rooms and use it to have access to their meals. Twenty dollars can be a lot for a student who has to pay for all of their living expenses, tuition and textbooks,” Nash said.
For Maia Wen, a UAA graduate who works in UAA’s Center for Behavioral Health Research and Services, said the fee increase may actually be a good thing. She lost her Wolfcard several times throughout the last four years and uses it for work and the bus.
“It’s bad news for forgetful people like me, but I understand why the university raised the price of replacement cards,” Wen said. “So in the end, I’m fine with it, as it provides incentive for all of us to be more responsible with our belongings.”
The use of one large operating system for Wolfcards is concerning for Nash and he said that the University could start looking into a better, cheaper alternative.
There are other companies to provide the necessary software, according to deZeeuw, but it would still be expensive, and a switch between card systems for the entire UA system could cost even more.
“They all charge a license fee, so it’s not like we’re getting screwed by Blackboard,” deZeeuw said. “Not to mention the hardware is proprietary, so it only works with Blackboard. If we did get a new card system, we’d have to get all new card readers and it would cost closer to a million dollars in hardware. With the current budget climate, it’s not realistic.”
For the first 16 years that the Wolfcard has existed, there has been an escalating replacement fee, which meant that the first replacement would be $5, the second $10, the third $15 and so forth. In 2012, the fee had been changed to a flat rate of $10 to alleviate issues that kept the Wolfcard office from keeping accurate track of students’ number of cards.
deZeeuw intends to keep the flat rate since the transition made no significant difference in the fees they received.
“It was almost an even amount from the old escalating fee because once people started getting into the $15-$20 replacement fee, then they stopped getting replacement cards,” deZeeuw said.
The search for more viable options will continue with deZeeuw, and students, such as Bat-Erdene, hope that changes like this will be brought to USUAA in the future.
Lost and stolen Wolfcards will be replaced for $20 but there is currently no charge for cards that are worn out due to normal wear and tear. It is still up to the office’s discretion to determine whether the card has been misused.