Updated September 2021
By Brad Sweet, Allegion US commercial marketing leader
2020 was a year of uncertainty. When campuses closed at the start of the pandemic, many left with hopes to return to normality in the fall. Summer turned to fall, fall became spring. And now, more than a year later, colleges and universities have started welcoming students back in person.
There’s no doubt that universities were eager to get student populations back to campus. Enrollment numbers and long-term financial viability were among the top five pressing issues that presidents faced due to COVID-19, according to polling by the American Council on Education (ACE).
Many are optimistic that this upcoming semester will be less tempestuous, but it’s not time to let the guards down just yet. It’s still essential for colleges and universities to reassure students and their guardians that it’s safe to step back into campus routines, especially as COVID cases continue to rise. Regardless of vaccination requirements for in-person attendance, many universities are still seeking ways to prevent the spread of the virus and strengthen peace of mind—today and in the future.
To ensure peace of mind, two solutions your institution might implement are contactless credentials and touchless openings. And the good news, Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) might be available to make the transition to touchless door access across campus.
The federal government has issued several rounds of stimulus funds to help alleviate hardships brought on by the pandemic. Funds specifically designated for higher education are called HEERF and can be used to support student grants, recover lost costs due to the pandemic and re-open to in-person classes in the fall. For example, implementing evidence-based practices to suppress the spread of the coronavirus to create healthier environments for in-person learning is one way to use institutional relief funding. These funds are flexible so colleges can use them where resources are most needed. Some campuses, like the University of Montana, have already decided to use their money for contactless readers, enabling no-touch transactions and access on campus.
(Curious how you can use these for access control? See Allegion’s recommendations.)
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 cards. 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. For mechanical doors, LCN® just announced a budget-friendly product that transforms a mechanical door closer into an automatic operator with just four screws.
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.
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. For many, HEERF funding can help support the move to new touchless hardware.
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.