The mobile movement: Exploring mobile credentials 


Published April 2020


Higher education institutions are thinking holistically in terms of their technologies and the student experience. This is a shift from 25 years ago, when a majority of access control was mechanical and systems mostly operated independently. Today, the ever-evolving digital transformation, combined with an increasing number of tech-savvy students arriving on campus each fall, increases the importance of delivering an environment that’s on par with student expectations.


The recent buzz around mobile credentials already has higher education security professionals wondering if mobile ecosystems are something to consider in the near future and, if so, how they will get there.

“Schools strive for an environment that allows for maximum convenience and security at every interaction throughout campus. For many, mobile is the clear solution.” 

What’s driving the mobile movement?

“Colleges are looking at the comprehensive offering of solutions to best facilitate student engagement, reduce friction and support fundamental access needs,” said Jeff Koziol, Allegion's higher education specialist. “Schools strive for an environment that allows for maximum convenience and security at every interaction throughout campus. For many, mobile is the clear solution.”


Student experience

“Mobile credentials build on the convenience that the one-card solution introduced,” said Koziol. “Door access, meal plans, financial transactions, transit and more are still accessible through a single credential, but now students only need to carry their mobile device—which they’re already guaranteed to have on them.”


A recent study from The Center for Generational Kinetics found that 95 percent of Gen Z owns a smartphone and being connected is their norm. They’ve grown up with this technology, and many aspects of their day-to-day routines are reliant on their phones, like video chatting with friends and family, requesting a ride and listening to the latest music. It’s clear to see why students would expect their campus routines to be easily accessible in the same way. A mobile ecosystem on campus creates an uninterrupted experience as they flow from the student recreation center to the library and back to the residence hall.



Upgrading to mobile credentials can help institutions improve security. Similar to smart cards, near-field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth low energy (BLE) options with high encryption help prevent duplications and hacks. However, with mobile there is added value in the way students regard their cell phones, according to Koziol.


He explained, “The thought of loaning a friend your mobile device is unsettling for most of us—even just for a few minutes. Similarly, think about the panic that ensues when we realize our mobile phone is missing. We don’t see this level of discomfort with a physical credential. Pair this with multi-factor authentication on most mobile devices, like pin codes or biometrics, and it’s clear to see mobile provides a superior security platform.”


Students are also less likely to lose their phone. If it is missing, they will notice quickly and find their device or take action to deactivate it.


Operational efficiencies

Institutions have better control over credential management with mobile. The IDs can be issued in a seamless manner, simply pushing out the credential, either BLE or NFC, to the respective student. This automated process is more organized and productive compared to individuals coming to the registrar’s office to take their photo and pick up their printed ID card. It also reduces expenses like printers, cartridges and plastic cards.

How to prepare

The value is clear. But launching a mobile ecosystem on campus requires planning. Let’s explore how to prepare for the mobile movement.


1. Assess where you are today

Identify stakeholders upfront. Campus cards impact various parts of the institution—facilities teams, card offices, security directors, IT departments, on- and off-campus merchants and more. Involving everyone upfront reduces missteps.


Audit current technology. List all existing technology that interacts with the credential. Audit any reader the current cards touch—including the library, vending machines, bookstores, dining halls and printing stations. From credentials and locks to your physical access control provider, what you have in place today will help you identify a transition plan. Is your school using proximity cards or smart card technology? Does your campus already have multi-technology readers deployed that can accept the type of mobile technology you're evaluating? Is the technology in place non-proprietary? It’s also important to understand the capabilities—and potential limitations—of your physical access control system. Here are tips to help you get started.


Review integrations in play. Start with access control and security. Then look beyond at other pieces of the student experience. This includes cashless vending, printing, meal plans and much more. Is there anything not part of the one-card solution now that could be included?


Gauge the mood for mobile. Have students already started requesting mobile credentials? Has the student government brought you demands for a mobile campus? If so, it’s a sign mobile is something to consider soon to keep up with student expectations. If you haven’t heard anything yet, poll students on campus to gauge their feelings toward a move to mobile credentials. It’s likely that an overwhelming amount will want a new technology.


Analyze phone technologies. While Apple devices are more prominent, it’s important to understand how many Android or other devices are being utilized. Is it an 80-20 split, or closer to 65-35? When it’s time to choose a mobile solution, it’s essential to know if the technology and hardware will work for the majority of students. Also think about what credentialing will look like for those with mobile devices that don’t support that solution. Technology should be in place to support multiple types of credentials.


2. Develop a plan for the future

Evaluate your readiness. The information uncovered in the first step will help identify what your university needs to consider to get to a mobile ecosystem on campus. This will look different for each campus depending on where they are at today. Some might need to start with a migration to smart technology, then adopt mobile in a few years. Others will leap right from mag stripe to mobile. To be fully successful, remember that your campus should be able to adopt a 100 percent mobile environment, meaning that anywhere a physical card is accepted, a mobile phone can be too.


Talk to your peers. Speak with campuses that have made the transition to see how they deployed mobile credentials. Is the program going well? Is there anything they would have done differently? If possible, seek out a campus of a similar demographic. If you don’t know any colleges or universities that have initiated mobile credentials, check out this Q&A that’s full of first-hand knowledge.


Think long term. Before adopting any new technology, understand whether it’s compatible with mobile solutions, and specifically the technology you plan to use—NFC or BLE. Next, understand the benefits of an interoperable, non-proprietary option.

Koziol said, “Simply put, interoperable solutions put you—the customer—at the center of the decision. Don’t be misled by statements indicating interoperability; be sure to do your research. A credential is not interoperable if it only works within one manufacturer’s reader and lock portfolio. A fully interoperable solution works across multiple manufacturers’ product lines. Plus, a wider selection of vendors means your team can shop around to find the best solutions at the best cost.”


Mobile isn’t a fad; it’s a way of doing business. Colleges and universities that don’t learn how to interact with students via mobile will be at a disadvantage. Therefore, it’s not a matter of will you make the move to mobile, it’s when.


As you start evaluating your campus cards, it’s important to look at the big picture. Choose the credential that’s going to deliver the most value to your campus—today and in the future. When you’re ready to discuss options for your institution and develop a tailored migration plan that fits your unique needs, Allegion is here to help.  

Related articles:

Realizing value in the mobile credential

Mobile is more prevalent on campuses than ever before. Here’s how to prep for a mobile ecosystem at your school.

Evaluating campus credentials

Let us guide your team as it evaluates campus card technologies and plans for the future.