Written By Tom Stiles, Original Article – CR80 News
For students, a college dormitory is a home away from home. But for university housing departments, a residence hall or a collection of residence halls can be a management challenge equal to that of a small town. With thousands of students to serve each year, colleges are constantly scratching their heads as they look for ways to better manage these communities, including how to increase security while improving efficiency.
The University of Mississippi, also known as Ole Miss, regularly evaluates products and services that can better serve its growing student population. With 40% of the institution’s 20,000 students living in on-campus housing, the Housing IT Department has a big job. In 2009 the department invested in an electronic access control and visitor registration system from TotalCard that manages access rights and privileges at all 14 residence halls and two apartment complexes.
The TotalCard campus card system enables colleges and universities to identify, validate and track students and faculty members. Students can use their ID cards for a variety of things both on and off campus including making purchases, utilizing meal plans, attending events, accessing dorm rooms and other campus facilities, tracking attendance and more. The system’s modular design allows campuses to implement features and applications one at a time, in phases or all at once, depending on specific campus needs.
Prior to implementing the electronic access system, Ole Miss students gained access to their residence hall and room with a physical key. The biggest security risk was that there was no way to deactivate lost or stolen keys. Today, cards are immediately deactivated in the system as soon as they are reported missing.
When considering options for access control, the campus was concerned with cost and ease of installation. Wireless locks helped minimize installation and wiring costs, and enabled Ole Miss to deploy electronic access to each individual room in every residence hall. Each wireless lock is battery powered and system administrators receive notifications when batteries need to be changed.
At Ole Miss, ID cards are mailed to the student’s home address during the summer. This solved the issue of long lines at the campus card office on move in day, but added a challenge. There was no way of accounting for students as they moved in, thus creating inaccurate records.
The housing department approached TotalCard for help building a solution to ensure each student officially checks in, prior to accessing their room. The company facilitated integration between the access control system and StarRez, the housing management system used by Ole Miss. StarRez is a student housing solution that includes online housing applications, such as roommate and room self-selection. The Ole Miss integration enables room numbers and access privileges to be instantly assigned as students present their card during check-in at their residence hall.
“We manage all of our student room assignments in StarRez, so we knew an integration between the two systems would help to simplify the move in process,” explains Chris Thornton, systems administrator for student housing at Ole Miss. “To check in, students present their prox cards to a reader at the front desk of their residence hall, at which time their room assignment and access privileges are activated instantly in TotalCard. This is great for us because students get fast and easy access to their rooms and we get an electronic list of who has moved in and who has not.”
The campus also benefits from use of TotalCard’s electronic visitor registration system at each residence hall. Students are asked to meet their guest in the lobby of their building, at which time both the student and guest present an ID and a record of the visit is logged. The system accepts both student ID cards and driver licenses for fast enrollment and electronic reporting, giving operators easy access to information about who is coming and going in each building.
The combination of electronic door access and visitor registration adds extra security to residence halls. By implementing a fully integrated card system, a housing department benefits from the features and functionality of multiple applications without the headache of managing each system individually.