By Brad Sweet, Allegion US commercial marketing leader
2020 has been a year of uncertainty. When campuses closed at the start of the pandemic, many left with hopes to return to normality in the fall. Then as summer months passed, it became clear that colleges and universities must prepare for an abnormal return to campus.
The American Council on Education (ACE) polled college and university presidents at the end of July 2020 and found that “safety protocols for the fall related to COVID-19” was the most pressing issue facing presidents (66 percent). Leading up to the start of the fall semester, these institutions were considering a “variety of plans and instructional modalities to operate safely.” Approximately 97 percent of presidents reported that they anticipated their institution offering some mix of in-person and online courses this fall.
ACE surveyed presidents again after the start of the fall semester. Per the report, “Nothing is more top of mind for college and university presidents than the physical health and safety of their campus communities. Given the level of uncertainty that the pandemic poses, institutional leaders recognize that they must be prepared to modify their institutional plans, policies, and procedures based on new information.”
For those that decided to welcome back students, it’s been a rocky start. According to research by the New York Times, there have been more than 178,000 cases reported at more than 1,400 colleges, as of October 8. While this is reflective of identified cases since the start of the pandemic, the New York Times has reported a major increase of cases since late July and more than 42,000 since early September.
Uncertain times has forced universities to be flexible with their reopening strategies. Some limited off-campus students from coming to campus for classes or work. Others postponed opening plans. More than half of those surveyed by ACE (55 percent) reported a decrease in enrollment compared to last fall, citing things like declines in international student enrollment, remote learning and health concerns related to COVID-19 as some of the reasons. Many are proactively sending students home around Thanksgiving, leaving campuses empty through the remainder of the semester. During these weeks, universities will have some time to prepare for students to return after the holidays and implement additional safety protocols where needed.
Unimaginable times have led to unpredictable futures. I bet all of us wish we had a crystal ball that could tell us what to expect for the Spring 2021 semester. While I don’t know what the new normal will look like exactly, I do believe there is hope ahead. Lessons were learned and policies enacted during the past few months. Health and safety will remain important for students, their families, staff and faculty. With that in mind, universities should consider how to further prepare for the day that students fill classrooms and student unions again. To ensure peace of mind, two solutions your institution might implement are contactless credentials and touchless openings.
Ninety (90) percent of universities surveyed by ACE reported increased spending on cleaning and maintenance for the fall semester, which is to be expected. For colleges and universities looking to implement additional changes to ensure peace of mind in future semesters, two solutions your institution might implement are contactless credentials and touchless openings.
At most universities and colleges, the campus card is the lifeblood of a student’s daily routine. It’s how students access buildings, eat at dining halls, check out books from the library, print term papers, do their laundry—the list goes on. With so much relying on that card, it’s safe to assume it’s being touched multiple times a day. Therefore, upgrading to a contactless solution limits how frequently the student needs to swipe a card on campus, which involves coming in contact with the reader. Upgrading can also increase security.
Many universities have already decided to transition from magnetic stripe and proximity cards to more secure technologies that offer encryption. If your school is considering an upgrade, my recommendation is to look into mobile credentials.
Mobile student IDs are deployed digitally, reducing the need for students to come to the administration building for in-person pickup. This is important as schools want to limit groups indoors. Contactless and convenient, mobile credentials can help reduce contact transmission by decreasing the number of surfaces students touch on campus. This helps limit opportunities for exposure.
Smart cards offer a similar contactless experience once deployed, but students often still arrive in-person at the registrar’s office to pick up their physical card. From there, it’s a contactless experience. From access to on-campus transactions, it’s as simple as presenting a phone, watch or student ID card near a reader.
Contactless credentials are step one in terms of touchless access control. But what happens after a student presents his or her device for access? For the experience to be truly contactless, the door needs to then open without that student touching the hardware or door. The same should be considered for doors that don’t require a student to use a credential for access, like some classroom buildings.
High-touch openings across campus—from the dining halls to student recreation centers—benefit from touchless access control. Think about the busiest areas on campus. Unless cleaning crews can be staffed at these openings throughout the day—which would accrue resources quickly—there are hands potentially spreading germs each time its touched. Consider working with the facilities team to develop contact-free openings on campus.
A common way to accomplish touchless operation is by pairing low energy automatic door operators with actuators or readers. Entrances with automatic door operators can easily be converted to touchless by swapping out the actuator with a touchless actuator. At doors that are part of an access control system, pedestrians present their contactless credentials like usual. Once access is granted, they simply wave their hand in front of the actuator and the door is signaled to open. For doors that are not connected to access control systems, the wave is all it takes.
In terms of creating healthier campuses, door hardware is just a chapter of the story. When paired with other recommendations by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is value to limiting surface exposure. We’ve already seen interest in creating healthier campus environments. Given investment requirements, these types of upgrades likely will occur over a few years. Therefore, it’s good to have a plan in place for risk mitigation, especially since there is still much financial uncertainty for the 2020-2021 year.
The investment of implementing a new credential platform will vary depending on the door hardware already installed. Similarly, converting openings to touchless might require new hardware. If you want to convert an opening that doesn’t have an automatic door operator and push actuator already in place, there will be a bit more of an investment. Depending on the opening and traffic, a mechanical hands-free door opener might be a better fit.
If your university or college is looking for new measures to help improve the overall health of your campus, speak with an Allegion expert to discuss the door hardware options available to you.