Campus Access Control: 4 Capabilities and Considerations for Protecting Colleges

Published: July 28, 2023

Many colleges and universities continue to identify the need for, and explore the means of, controlling access to more areas of their campuses. The same holds true for primary and secondary schools and their campuses. Access technology makes such control possible while yielding a number of additional benefits to campus environments, including centralized control over building traffic, insights into building use, and the flexibility to adapt the system based on changing needs. Such technology also helps address two big challenges: preventing unwanted visitors and delivering a proactive security posture.

In general, access control systems allow administrators to track occupancy and manage access across an organization. Security personnel can add or delete access for people to controlled areas of campus such as dorms, science labs, or medical facilities, as well as grant temporary access to specific doors for a finite period of time. For special events, some campuses use card readers to assign different levels of access. For example, generic badges or tickets may be used to grant access to the initial event checkpoint, but enhanced security clearance is required to gain entry to the backstage area.

While access control technology can future-proof an organization with stronger and more integrated security, not all systems are created equal. Understanding where to start and what possibilities exist is the most important place for campus security stakeholders to begin – whether they are updating existing access technology or considering a new access control installation. With that in mind, let’s look at a few access control capabilities that can be particularly beneficial to the higher education space.

1. Streamlined Credentials

First and foremost, with a unified access control system, campus administrators can give students, staff, faculty, and visitors access to buildings across campus, as well as use those same credentials for sports tickets, laundry facilities, dining, and campus merchandise. In other words, organizations can bring more value to their cards by using the same access control credentials for more than a single dormitory or building. A primary benefit of issuing one card or credential for multiple uses is the cost savings of not having to purchase additional cards.

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Some campus security stakeholders may be aware that one-card access is a possibility in theory, but they may not know it’s a possibility for their campus. An open platform system can make this possible and cost-effective at the same time by integrating with a variety of different cards and technologies that are already in use on campus.

If different departments or schools across one campus (or multiple campuses) have their own security technologies and budgets, campus stakeholders should have conversations early on to determine each school or department’s individual needs and whether they can pool budgets to create a unified, centralized system that will give better visibility to the entire organization while increasing data sharing, expanding operational efficiency, lowering the total cost of ownership, and making true one-card access a possibility.

2. Mobile Opportunities

Though physical badges and keycards are still the most widely adopted form of credentials in the education sector, the ability to deploy mobile credentials, such as on a cellphone, has the added benefits of convenience and reduced total cost of ownership. Access cards have the inherent challenge of being lost or reissued multiple times over. For campus environments with large student populations, visitors, and temporary staff, that challenge is magnified when it comes to access management.  

Mobile credentials are easily tracked and can’t be lost like a card or fob. Students don’t have to worry about forgetting their card, and security staff can just as easily update credentials and access parameters remotely. Some manufacturers allow organizations to use mobile credentials and cards simultaneously, mixing and matching based on user choice or convenience.

On the financial side, mobile access control credentials can be a real cost saver for colleges and universities if the technology provider offers mobile credentials for free. If a campus has a large amount of turnover or lost and reissued cards, going mobile saves on the cost of badge replacements.

3. Integration Possibilities

Another capability of access control systems particularly beneficial to campus settings is integration. Almost all systems can integrate with other technology from the same manufacturer, such as video cameras and intercoms. An open-source system can make integrations with other manufacturers and technology not only possible but much easier as well – expanding integration options even further and driving greater value to the organization.

For example, open platform systems may have capabilities to integrate with local law enforcement, giving first responders visibility into security events while decreasing response time. The ability to share specific videos or access control data directly with local law enforcement, when necessary, may be a particularly helpful tool for urban campuses to extend security reach.

Inside the organization, access control integrations can enable campus security stakeholders to manage and create schedules, track incidents and events, gain occupancy insight, provide two-way audio and video tied to access, view and manage multiple locations and campus sites from one central platform, and remotely manage the technology from anywhere in the world.

Aside from access control integrations with intercoms and video cameras typically seen in campus settings, analytics can also be particularly beneficial for incident prevention and response. Two types of analytics often used in this market sector include motion detection and loitering detection. Such analytics can save data consumption for a large security platform, only recording video corresponding to a particular incident, for example. They also have the obvious benefits of flagging events to security personnel who can then choose a response, including initiating pre-recorded audio messages or two-way audio via an intercom in a building or dorm setting.

4. Addressing Disparate Systems

Though integration capabilities can meet or exceed the needs and expectations of colleges and universities, oftentimes campuses have security systems and technologies of various ages from different providers already in place and don’t know where to begin when it comes to upgrading. Disparate systems that still have life left in them do not mean that an integrated, agile access control system is out of reach.  

Many of today’s technology providers have built-in integrations or can accommodate integrations with other existing security systems and access control technologies. An open platform technology access control system can fast-track these upgrades. Open platform systems offer greater agility and flexibility when it comes to integrations with new or existing equipment and have the added benefit of helping set up an organization to grow, add and adapt in the future as needs and budgets change.

If it turns out that the existing technology installed needs an upgrade, some manufacturers offer buyback programs to help reduce the cost of investing in a completely new system.

Looking to the Future

Knowing the benefits and capabilities of access control systems for schools and campuses—from colleges and universities to grade schools and high schools—will go a long way in helping security stakeholders determine where to begin or improve upon, but arguably just as important is finding a trusted consultant, integrator, or technology partner to help ensure the financial costs of access control will be worth the investment.

Look for technology providers with local support and dedicated market segment teams that have expertise and experience in the space. Support is key to getting the most out of a system and setting the organization up for growth. By knowing the possibilities of access control and creating partnerships with trusted advisors, campus security stakeholders can tackle their biggest security challenges both now and in the future.


Joshua Gerena is Segment Development Manager, Multi-Dwelling Units, for Axis Communications.

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