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Monday, January 10,2011

OU mobile service to text students daily discounts

By Aundrea Bentley
Ohio University is preparing to sign a contract with My University Mobile, a company that works with businesses to give students discounts and provide revenue to universities.

The system will send exclusive discounts from various businesses in the Athens area to the cell phones of the students and community members who opt in to the My University Mobile program.

“It’s almost a no-brainer,” said Kent Smith, vice president for student affairs at OU. “We [OU] have an opportunity to generate income with no expense upfront.”

The university is able to set up its own guidelines for how the program will operate at OU. My University Mobile manages the account, talks to businesses about participating, and manages the daily text messages by accessing the database the university compiles.

“Our only obligation is to make an attempt to send a message to students to encourage them to sign up,” said Smith. “If students choose not to, even if zero students sign up, the university is not in violation of a contract, we’re not out of any money, and no staff has put any time towards it other than sending out a message to students.”

One guideline established is that credit-card companies will not be able to participate, and bars will not be able to offer discounts on alcoholic beverages.

“The university gets paid whether you redeem the coupon or not,” said Mark Highbaugh, director of Marlimar, the company that runs My University Mobile. “All you have to do is agree to be part of the program. Then you can choose which offers you want to take advantage of.”

Highbaugh emphasized that 15 text messages per day is the maximum that can be received by a participant, and no retailer will see students’ personal information.

When the proposal was discussed at a recent Student Senate meeting, many senators were concerned about security with the program and the chance that students’ phone numbers could be compromised or used for other purposes.

“The invitation is sent, and those students who apply to that database and opt in are the ones that will be accessible by our system,” said Highbaugh. “The rest are deleted from the system and will never receive a message.”

Smith said that when the contract is drawn up, attorneys will make sure that OU owns the database of student phone numbers. He said that OU will treat the database of numbers like the Emergency Text Messaging System, in that phone numbers provided will only be used for the purpose that students provide them.

“We will be partners with the university in administering that program, so obviously we will have access to that [database], but only for the purpose of sending those messages,” assured Highbaugh.

Other universities have signed contracts with My University Mobile, including Georgetown University, where Highbaugh said the program has had great success.

“In the first two minutes, we had over 20 percent of the student population opt in,” said Highbaugh. “Currently, we have over 50 percent.”

The revenue comes from retailers who pay to send their message to students, and the more students in the system, the more potential income for OU.

VP Smith said he is open to suggestions about where the income should be utilized, but he suggested using the money to pay for more student programming, such as tRAC [the Residents’ Action Council], SAC [Student Activities Commission], UPC [University Program Council] or another group entirely.

“One of the things I’m clearly on record as saying is that we do not put enough money towards student programming on campus,” said Smith. “My logic is that we’re generating income as a result of what students are doing, so why not spend the money on something that students are involved in? So I see the money going right back to students.”


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