Polina Popova: Access Granted — The Smart Solution Revolutionizing Student Housing

by Katie Sloan

With a significant number of tenants, guests and maintenance professionals frequenting student housing, access management has become an increasingly relevant and urgent topic in recent years. From students and parents, to property managers and operations professionals, the security, convenience and flexibility of smart locks and other innovative access control solutions is extremely appealing.

The emergence of smart lock technology and tech-driven access control solutions is part of a larger story about security and mobile technology, and college campuses are where important new chapters in that story are being written. The combination of large populations of tech-savvy and tech-reliant teens and young adults, and the myriad complex logistical and security challenges that come with managing residential and educational facilities in a higher education setting, makes colleges and universities the forefront of the access control technology revolution.

Understanding this evolving frontier of access control technologies — including what makes these solutions so appealing, how they can strengthen security and streamline operations, and even what the future of access control technology might look like — begins with young people.

Young and mobile

The proliferation and enthusiastic adoption of mobile devices and mobile applications into mainstream society has transformed not just the way we communicate, but the way we live. The use of (and affinity for) mobile devices has spiked across the board. But younger demographics (notably millennials and their younger Gen Z cohorts) are particularly engaged and demanding users. Mobile technology is beginning earlier, seemingly with each successive generation. A recent study showed that 85 percent of high school students own mobile devices.

As a group that is increasingly comfortable doing virtually everything by smartphone, younger generations are actively seeking out solutions that fit their mobile lifestyle: tools, technologies and platforms that provide them with an opportunity to streamline and simplify their day-to-day life. Having grown up in a world where the benefits of the internet, mobile technology, and instant communication have always been present, today’s students do not simply look at solutions such as mobile access as a trivial add-on service or extra convenience, they consider them to be essential tools that play a pivotal role in shaping the way in which they live their lives and interact with their surroundings. 

Campuses and convenience

Given the extent to which young people consider mobile tech solutions to be an integral part of their lives, it isn’t surprising that they are coming to expect and demand that these platforms are in place as they look to select a school or living arrangement, or otherwise attempt to integrate into college life. Studies have shown that 73 percent of high school students showed increased interest in schools that offered campus-specific applications. 

Mobile access solutions are an increasingly important piece of that lifestyle puzzle — serving as a vital extension of the convenience that younger students enjoy and expect when searching for a campus location or building on their phone or when communicating with others. Beyond the convenience, eliminating the need to visit the administrative office prior to accessing your room, this offers campuses the ability to engage with students while ensuring their well-being. And the potential exists for keys to be used not just as access tools, but as student identification tags, capable of integrating with point-of-sale payment platforms and other collegiate systems.

Smart lock or access control solutions–and the platforms, applications, services and support that make those solutions viable on a facility-, campus- or system-wide basis–are an increasingly essential part of the value proposition being presented to students and their families. And because most new facilities being designed and developed today have this new technology already built in, keeping up with the Joneses on the technology front is critical for those who want to remain relevant and maintain a competitive edge.

Security and control

Security is an obvious and high-profile issue on college campuses and educational facilities today. From headline-making disasters to everyday crime, students (and, perhaps more importantly, the parents sending those students away from home to live on their own for the first time) want to know that they are safe and secure. 

At the same time, college dormitories and residential facilities are becoming more attractive targets for theft. Increasingly high-end facilities are the result of a continuing “arms race” between universities and developers competing to attract students with luxurious residences and premium amenities. 

In this context, the significant security benefits afforded by smart locks and mobile access solutions loom large. Facilities managers or operations professionals can grant or take away access privileges with the push of a button, providing tiered or “curated” access that distinguishes between perimeter doors, personal rooms, common areas, and fitness facilities. That access can be defined by specified times and dates, as well: more liberal access may be appropriate during the chaos of moving days, while more restrictive access might make more sense at night or on campus holidays. The best systems also allow facility-specific or campus-wide lockdowns to be controlled from a central location, and, perhaps most importantly of all, they remove the security exposure, expense and inefficiency that comes with traditional locks and lost keys. No longer will officials have to decide between the expense of replacing a cylinder and the potential security issue that comes with a lost key, a move, or end-of-the-year turnover.

With traditional keys or key pad access, keys and codes get handed off and passed around to friends and acquaintances–and you very quickly lose control of who is on your campus and where. Sending a digital key to a phone or mobile device, on the other hand, confers several advantages. Digital keys cannot be copied or shared, removing the possibility that there are extra keys unaccounted for. This offers more control without compromising the user experience, while also simplifying visitor management. And being able to provide audit reports and intruder alerts, while also have the capabilities of dispensing keys that are time- and area-limited, means that you know who is on-site at all times, and who is allowed to go where. 

Operations professionals and residents/users alike are attracted to solutions that make their lives easier–and new access control technology is designed to be not only reliably secure, but intuitive and incredibly user-friendly. Needless to say, the ability to carry
around one less item and have everything they need on a single device is an enormously appealing proposition. And not only is it incredibly easy for operations personnel to distribute keys and manage access, they can even send out a message at the end of the semester to “terminate” all current keys–the equivalent of changing the lock with the push of a button.

The next frontier 

The future of access control will likely see more comprehensive integration with existing systems and solutions. Voice integration with AI platforms like Alexa and Siri is already in the works. In the process, the boom in the emerging field of access control technologies promises to provide a growing number of increasingly powerful smart and seamless solutions to balance security, convenience and accessibility. 

Polina Popova serves as business development director for ASSA ABLOY Global Solutions for education accommodations, the global leader in access solutions focused on reimagining how students move through their world. Polina may be contacted at polina[email protected].

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