About 20 million students are projected to enroll in America’s colleges and universities in 2020. As such, there will be many mouths to feed — and many on-campus dining operators competing to do so.
While some students may cook for themselves or grab a bite to eat off campus, many still rely on campus dining options for their meals, snacks and drinks. The higher education food service industry was worth $18 billion in 2018 and is expected to hit $18.7 billion next year.
First-year students at many colleges often live in on-campus dorms with limited or no access to kitchens, and are required to sign up for a dining plan. Some schools even require students to be on a dining plan until they graduate. The stakes are high for dining operators, all of which risk losing students to competing college eateries or the numerous restaurants off campus.
Attracting students can require accommodating those with allergies, preferences for variety or locally sourced foods, and even class schedules and late nights. It also often means providing modern conveniences, such as a mobile order-ahead app.
Education technology and services company Blackboard moved into the mobile order-ahead market with the launch of its white-label app in September, according to John Diaz, the company’s vice president of retail solutions product management, in a recent interview with PYMNTS. Diaz added that the app is being beta-tested at Santa Clara University, which plans to use it at 10 locations. Other institutions will also adopt the technology, including one that sees it as an ordering option for concessions at athletic events.
“Something unique about our space is the concept of student meal plans,” Diaz said. “Student meal plan capabilities — where they can use a breakfast, lunch or dinner meal, or maybe they have a plan with unlimited meals per week or 20 meals per week — had to be built into the application as a method of currency.”
Securing app-based payments requires several strategies, including tokenization, integrations and portals that make it easy to access transaction records. These solutions, Diaz said, help students safeguard the personal details they enter to use the order-ahead service.
Handling Payments And Safeguarding Devices
Students can use Blackboard’s app to place orders at participating campus locations, filter options based on dietary requirements, view nutrition information and more. Additionally, those who pair the app with Blackboard’s Incentives offering can earn rewards for food purchases, as well as for engaging in on-campus activities.
After placing their orders, students have a range of in-app payment options. They can pay via their institution’s closed-loop payment system — such as a stored-value account or meal plan — or an open-loop payment system with such methods as a credit card. Users can even split orders across payment methods — for instance, exchanging a meal plan block for its dollar value, and paying additional costs with a card or stored-value account.
The app also makes closed-loop payments more secure by having students sign in to pay. Diaz noted that this is an improvement over previous systems that required students to swipe their ID cards or enter their ID numbers into the app.
“They don’t have to worry about typing in a card number, or having somebody type in someone else’s card number, [which increases] the potential for fraudulent transactions,” he said.
According to Diaz, students are less likely to loan out usernames and passwords, both of which don’t present a physical theft risk.
“[Students] will loan out their ID cards, but they will not loan out their phones,” he said.
While students can stay signed in to the app (meaning another party could use it without knowing their login information), Diaz said students are more likely to notice that their smartphone is missing rather than an ID card. Students already use their smartphones for many important activities, and new services have made them an increasingly important part of their college lives, he noted, adding that some new solutions allow students to use their phones to access their rooms or pay for laundry.
On-campus students often pay through meal plans, he said, while commuting students and guests are more likely to use credit cards. Open-loop payments are securely processed through third-party gateways, with the payment details tokenized before being stored for future transactions, he explained.
Students are likely to be extra careful with their phone and login details, Diaz noted, because the mobile ordering service can be linked to other important campus solutions. If a university enables this, students can sign into the app with the same information they use to view their grades and financial information — meaning they’re less likely to share those details with friends or classmates. The setup also allows Blackboard to refer to the university’s system authenticate app users.
“We do rely very heavily on the single sign-on capabilities from the college-university systems,” he said. “We’re able to use the students’ same usernames and passwords that they use to access other college resources to authenticate [their identities in] the mobile application. … Then, in the background, we’re pulling the credentials … to process those transactions.”
Blackboard provides other transaction technologies to universities as well, including support for in-person point-of-sale (POS) options for bookstores, vending machines, dining halls and more. With the app integrated into that system, students can go into Blackboard’s online portal to view all campus purchases in one spot. If they notice anything amiss, they can report it to school administrators to request refunds or deactivate their accounts.
If all goes as planned, technologies like these will help students to easily and securely fire off orders for breakfast on their way out of the dorm, or place lunch orders at the end of class and pick them up en route to the next lecture. As the higher education food service industry grows, dining operators could discover that mobile ordering gives them the opportunity to win over students not only during their freshmen year, but for their entire college career.