Accessing the Campus

May 1, 1999
College and university campuses face many of the same problems as a small city. In fact, in many ways the problems can be even more daunting because of

College and university campuses face many of the same problems as a small city. In fact, in many ways the problems can be even more daunting because of the need to keep detailed records for each of the campus' users-full- and part-time students, employees, volunteers, etc.

The task of bringing together a number of different information sources is staggering. The solution for many small and large campuses is a one-card system where students, employees and volunteers use an identification card with a magnetic strip.

One-card systems are being used on campuses on a variety of levels. Some facilities are using the card simply as part of an access-control system where the card can be programmed only to allow a student or employee access to authorized areas. Other schools use the system on a more advanced level, including student-registration information, dining-hall privileges, banking and debit-card access, as well as many other features.

The basic uses In its basic form, the one-card system is used to provide campus security. Magnetic-card readers allow cardholders to use the card as an electronic key. Access can be tailored for each individual and can be terminated or updated quickly, without retrieval of the card. Access to residence halls is programmed into the system only for residents of that building. This helps keep unwanted visitors out, and provides those living there with more privacy and security. In this same way, access to computer rooms, laboratories and other sensitive areas can be restricted to only those authorized to be in those areas.

The building blocks of this type of integrated access-control system are the field-control panels located at the site. The control panels act as an access-control decisionmaker, connecting the database for the host computer and the information from the magnetic-card reader. The control panels can download the complete database from the host computer and respond to access requests, in most cases, in less than one-half second.

When an unauthorized person tries to enter a facility, an alarm occurs and the control panel immediately transmits a signal to the host. Newer systems offer integrated features such as imbedded e-mail and paging, so once the host receives the alarm signal, a page can be sent to a roving guard or e-mail to a campus police department. The host computer also maintains a record of access to each magnetic-card reader, providing campus authorities with useful information should there be a problem in one of the facilities.

A good one-card system should include a photo-imaging system with a ready-to-use badge-layout editor. This allows the campus to design a number of different types of cards for day students, night students, residents, employees and volunteers. A picture identification also stops cards from being borrowed or stolen and makes lost cards easier to retrieve.

Many campuses also use the one-card system for registration. These cards can be activated and deactivated easily according to a student's status. This means that if a student drops out mid-semester, the card can be deactivated. Without a computerized database, it may take months for a student's status to be updated. Using an access-control system with an integrated database, student and employee status can be updated immediately, and without the expense and administration of mailing new cards.

Beyond basics Many colleges and universities have found that this type of integrated database can go way beyond limiting access and updating student registration. Some schools have expanded the card to include meal-plan information, library access and access to additional campus services. In some cases, the card can act as a debit card in vending machines and telephones. Many campuses also are using the one-card system for recreation centers and equipment rentals.

One advantage of the card systems for many schools is that the integrated database can provide consumer marketing information. For example, a campus food-service department can use the computerized information to determine student and faculty eating preferences, and modify meal plans accordingly. A recreation department can study the profile of its users and provide activities targeted to its patrons. This type of information can help a university to service students, staff, faculty and other affiliates more effectively.

Financing for a one-card system is a question that every campus must face, but it is not insurmountable. The systems often prove to be a revenue resource. Lost-card charges can generate revenue. When the card is used as a debit card, the student or employee typically deposits $200 to $300 into an individual account. Purchases are then made with the card over the course of several weeks. The campus realizes the interest revenue immediately. Compound this scenario over the entire student body, as well as faculty, and the potential for revenue opportunities becomes clearer.

Another way that many colleges and universities get help with the costs upfront is by forming partnerships with banking or telecommunications companies. Often, these institutions will front the cost of the system for the student business that they will get in return. The average cost for a one-card system at a major institution is $500,000 to $1 million. Therefore, it is important for colleges and universities to form solid relationships with contractual agreements that benefit both parties.

Setting up a system Typically, colleges and universities begin the process of setting up a one-card system in the fall with requests for proposals (RFPs) submitted over the winter months. Usually, a consultant is contracted to organize and oversee the entire project. Walkthroughs to specify the system and the presentation of proposals typically take place in the spring. This allows for a summer installation when the campus is the least busy. Ideally, the system can be fully operational by the beginning of the fall semester when the majority of students return to the campus.

During the proposal process, systems administrators should look for a system with open database connectivity (ODBC). This type of open system allows for easy integration with other systems, such as banking and telephone systems. The system also should be able to integrate with other security functions, such as closed-circuit television (CCTV), and fire and life-safety functions.

A systems integrator familiar with all of the software and hardware necessary to integrate this type of information system should oversee the installation of the system. The integrator should be able to support and maintain the system once it is installed. Developing and maintaining a strong relationship with the integrator is one way to ensure the system will be kept in good working order. An institution also should maintain a current software support agreement, as well as a preventive-maintenance program. This ensures proper software upgrades and revisions. Many software developers issue a major software revision every nine to 16 months.

During the proposal process, any viable system must take into account growth of the institution. The system also should be able to handle the most extreme growth forecasts relative to the size of the database. Campus administrators should consider the largest enrollment scenario for the number of cards necessary for students, faculty and employees. Growth of the physical campus also must be taken into account to make certain the system will handle additional facilities, control panels and magnetic readers. The system selected should support growth through a minimum of five years.

Systems for the future While today's integrated access-control systems support a number of functions, the systems of the future will allow for the inclusion of even more integration. More and more facilities and administrative functions will run from one integrated database. This will provide a valuable tool for college and university administrators to maintain a safe and efficient environment for students and faculty. It also will provide administrators with an effective way to gather marketing information on students and faculty. This information can then be used to become more competitive in the marketplace by providing new services that are targeted specifically to the campus audience.

Future access systems also will include more Internet and Web functions, and the systems will become more sensitive and unobtrusive with hands-free access. Badges and cards will be read when a person with a card simply walks through a portal.

The true "smart" cards with a chip imbedded in the card itself are still in their infancy and not widely used at this time. These are cards that allow information to be carried on the card itself. For instance, a student could go to an ATM machine and add additional buying power to the card without having to have the information input on the main database. These chip-embedded cards will become increasingly popular in the foreseeable future and are destined to become a part of the college and university scene.

Administrators at the recreational services center for the University of New Mexico (UNM), Albuquerque, thought more women than men were using the recreation equipment and facilities. But after reviewing the data from the university's one-card system, they found that the reverse was true-allowing the university to use this information to design recreation programs and plan for future growth. Students, faculty and staff are issued a University of New Mexico photo ID called the LOBO card. It is an important form of identification with numerous uses. The information from the LOBO cards is stored and maintained with access-control software.

The LOBO card is used for student registration, and can be activated and deactivated easily according to a student's current status. Also, the use of photos on the badges made them a more effective tool for identification and discourage stolen-card use. The university has issued more than 96,000 LOBO cards. Currently, there are about 38,000 active cards, including 25,000 student cards.

The card goes well beyond registration information, though. Besides allowing access to recreational facilities, students and staff also use the card to check out equipment and sporting gear. The card validates eligibility for student-government elections; discounted athletic-event tickets and bookstore purchases; and identification/entrance to the dining hall, student-health center and student-union building. The card also allows students to check out books at the seven UNM libraries.

Other organizations also make special offers to cardholders. It can be used as an ATM card, which is sponsored by a local bank. A telecommunications carrier is another sponsor, allowing students and staff to use the card for long-distance calling.

The one-card system also provides security for certain areas of the campus. Magnetic-card readers allow the card to be used as an electronic key, and access can be tailored for each individual card. Currently, it is being used for added security at one of the women's residence halls, the university computer room and telecommunications building.

UNM has combined the security and access functions of the one-card system and expanded its information-gathering capabilities. School officials can review cardholder trends and patterns at meal halls, libraries and other service provider organizations.

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