Old computer system prevents Mercer from participating in NJTransit Student Pass

Written by: Dan Asnis

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According to New Jersey Transit’s website, other local community colleges, such as Brookdale and Middlesex, offer a discount that allows students to travel to New York at a discounted fare. Even Atlantic Cape Community College and Cumberland County College, way down in south Jersey, get this discount. But Mercer students don’t get the discount even though train stations are just minutes away in Princeton Junction, Hamilton and Trenton. We don’t get the discount that students at Princeton University,  Rider University and The College of New Jersey can take for granted. How did this happen?

In an interview with Nancy Snyder, a spokeswoman for New Jersey transit, she explained that it is up to Mercer’s administration to make the first move and contact New Jersey Transit about joining the discount program called Student Pass.  Snyder said “Student Pass provides full-time undergraduate and graduate students a 25 percent discount on already discounted monthly passes for New Jersey Transit bus, rail and light rail systems.”

Snyder said that “the program started in approximately 2004. We Have 59 schools that are taking advantage of it.” According to Snyder, Mercer students do have access to alternative discounts, though they aren’t as comprehensive.

“With rail service, students who attend accredited colleges and postsecondary schools, where online Student Pass sales are not available, can get a discounted rail monthly pass at any of our ticket windows. [They can do this] by picking up a paper application form. The discount for students of accredited non-participating schools is 25 percent off rail passes monthly only, but not bus or light rail,” Snyder said.

Mercer’s non-participation in Student Pass seems to involve security issues within Mercer’s computer system, a system that has not had a complete overhaul since 2000. Dean of Students Dr. Diane Campbell told The VOICE that to get the discount it would be necessary to link the outdated computer system to Mercer’s separate financial aid system.

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According to Campbell “When we tried to [get the discount] before, New Jersey Transit wanted an integration with our system. Because of the way our system is set up, we could not risk the breach in security because a lot of information would be linked to student files. So we could not do that at that time.”

Assistant Dean of Students John Simone explained, “Until we get our new computer system, we’re just moving slowly. Our new computer system is going to give us a lot more flexibility and a lot more security. The current system we have was put in after Y2K and is now 12 years old. The security of a 12 year old system is not going to be as good as our new one.”

Susan Bowen, Executive Director of Information Technology Services said in an email interview that “The new computer system consists of both a new academic and administrative system for the college.  We are in the process of implementing this and expect the project to last two years.”

If Mercer does join Student Pass when the new computer system is fully up and running, it could provide a savings to Mercer because it would no longer have to subsidize bus tickets currently available at the bookstore with a 21 percent discount provided by the college. Instead, the discount would be covered by New Jersey Transit and students would have a direct link between their financial aid and rail passes.

Dana Toff , a second year advertising and graphic design major, says she would be more likely to do a New York internship if she could get a Student Pass. “There are more internships and advertising agencies in New York,” Toff said.

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