Mobile Payments On Campus: What Are the College Students Using?

June 26, 2019         By: Steven Anderson

It used to be that media reports liked to take a look at life “on campus”, referring here to college campuses. In a parody of the concept, “Doonesbury”’s Roland Hedley did a series at its fictional Walden campus, misled by then-student Zonker into believing, among other things, a lilac bush produced excellent marijuana. Similarly, the Motley Fool offered a look at mobile payments use on campus, and found some surprising notes.

A Sallie Mae / Ipsos study found that 86 percent of college students put mobile payments to use, followed almost immediately by debit cards at 85 percent, cash at 81 percent, and credit cards a comparatively distant fourth at 57 percent. That’s up somewhat from the same time last year, where college student mobile payment use was at 77 percent.

The dominant force in that market? Unquestionably, it’s PayPal. Between PayPal proper and its peer-to-peer equivalent Venmo, these two occupy the top two slots by a wide margin. PayPal is actually much more used than Venmo, with 62 percent of respondents using PayPal and 37 percent turning to Venmo. The next closest competitor, Apple Pay, holds just 22 percent, followed by Google Pay at 18, Samsung pay at nine, and Square Cash rounding out the list at seven.

The reasons behind this are fairly simple; Venmo and PayPal work across multiple platforms, while Apple, Google, and Samsung stick to their walled gardens. PayPal also had first-mover advantage, being in play long before the others. Venmo, meanwhile, was the system that really popularized the peer-to-peer concept sufficient for others, like Apple Pay, to get in on the action. Venmo’s social component certainly didn’t hurt matters.

Admittedly, most of the millennials have graduated college by now, but pretty much all of campus is really early Gen Z by some figures, and they’re likely still agreeing with the millennials on several fronts. While PayPal’s primacy is a surprise—perhaps the eBay connection is driving some of this—the fact that college students are shopping and paying from mobile devices is anything but.

Mobile payments are likely to continue to be a big deal for some time to come, and the current mood on campus drives that point home nicely.