As violent crime has steadily increased on college campuses in the last three decades, institutional leaders have reacted by creating more stringent policies to restrict visitors from entering their academic, administrative and residential buildings.
Along with technology—including surveillance cameras, building access systems and even ID badges with proximity chips that could allow officials to track students’ whereabouts on campus—colleges and universities are using more police officers and security guards. These professionals are watching over residence halls and, in some cases, academic and other buildings.
Nearly 60 percent of all campus assaults that were either deadly or potentially lethal since 1900 occurred in the 1990s and 2000s, according to “Campus Attacks: Targeted Violence Affecting Institutions of Higher Education,” a report from the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Department of Education and the FBI.
“People are worrying more about active shooter situations,” says Anne P. Glavin, chief of police at California State University, Northridge. “It’s a different world from what we lived in 15 years ago. Colleges and universities are also growing in size, and any time you have more people, you have to ramp up your security.”
Yet as colleges and universities move to protect their campuses from unwanted visitors, they are also trying to preserve the open atmosphere that has traditionally integrated campuses into the surrounding community, Glavin says. “The whole point of a college campus is to make you feel like you are in a community within a community. When you start to do something extreme around the perimeters, it starts to feel less like it was supposed to be.”
The type of security measures a campus employs depends on whether the institution is urban or rural, or private or public—or if it’s in an open or closed area. Generally, urban campuses tend to use more stringent policies because of crime encroaching from surrounding neighborhoods. State schools tend to be less restrictive because of their mission to serve the public.
“Public universities have an expectation to provide services—to make their libraries accessible, to provide seminars and to provide other educational opportunities for the community to participate in,” says David L. Perry, assistant vice president for safety and chief of police at Florida State University. “Private universities do the same, but they have the ability to limit those who participate and have access in ways that public schools and universities can’t.”
Here are five strategies colleges and universities have embraced to manage visitors and help keep the campus community safe.
1. Fence in the campus
At the University of Southern California in October 2012, there was a shooting involving two men from off-campus. While no students were hurt in the incident and the suspect was arrested within 15 minutes, officials decided to fully fence in the 229-acre campus.
Situated in a rectangular area in the heart of Los Angeles, most of it was already enclosed by brick and wrought-iron walls. But the university added 1,500 linear feet of temporary fencing, which will eventually be replaced by a more permanent enclosure.
The fences have allowed officials to close the campus every night at 9 p.m. by shutting all but eight of the 29 gates used to control access. The gates left open are staffed with security personnel who check cars and pedestrians for university identification and verify whether visitors have been listed on a guest registration system.
“Visitors who want to come onto campus after 9 p.m. would be the invited guests of a student or faculty member,” says David Carlisle, deputy chief of USC’s Department of Public Safety. Officers have a record of these guests in a registration system that students and faculty can access.
Nearly 30 miles north of Los Angeles, officials at CSU Northridge have also used fencing to restrict visitors—but only around the portion of campus where its residence halls are located, says Glavin, past president of the of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). At night, the gates to the area are closed and visitors must check in with a security guard before entering a residence hall.
2. Require display of badges
Like most colleges and universities, Tennessee State University had a policy that required students, faculty and staff to carry identification badges at all times. But on March 1, the university went a step further and mandated that the badges worn by members of the campus community be visible at all times.
The policy was instituted in response to a rash of break-ins and vandalism committed by suspects who were not associated with the urban university, located adjacent to downtown Nashville.
“We want to make sure we know who is on the campus, and when and why,” says Curtis Johnson, who, as associate vice president for administration, directs emergency management efforts.
To prepare for the new rule, the university, working with Stanley Security Solutions, issued badges with a color photo on the front, a magnetic stripe on the back and a proximity chip that allows access to certain buildings. A total of $50,000, including lanyards, was spent on the cards.
Johnson says the new policy has been accepted across campus, but there will be penalties, ranging from fines to counseling, if students, faculty and staff don’t wear the badges. The judicial affairs office will determine consequences for students, and the office of human resources will enforce the rule for faculty and staff.
3. Use cards to gain building access
Another increasingly popular policy for urban campuses is the requirement that cards be used to gain access to all buildings on campus—not just to residence halls.
The Academy of Art University in San Francisco, housed in 50 buildings throughout the city, switched to a card access control system after battling ongoing break-ins and burglaries at residence halls and other facilities. In 2007, the university completely locked down all its buildings and issued electronic cards, produced by Microbiz Security Company, to its students and employees.
“We don’t ever prop our doors open and we don’t ever unlock them,” says Michael Petricca, the university’s director of campus safety. “We try to have a culture where our students are ID-centric.”
Florida State is moving to a similar policy, where all campus buildings will only be accessible with swipe cards. At its campus in downtown Tallahassee, nearly 40 percent of all major facilities, administrative buildings and residence halls now use card access, says Perry, who will become president of IACLEA in June.
FSU also has a no “tailgating” rule, which prohibits students from holding open the door after swiping their cards to let another student in behind them. “Even with swipe cards, the entrances are not 100 percent secure,” Perry says.
4. Use campus perimeter check points
Officials at an open campus with multiple access points may have difficulty differentiating visitors from students or employees. But more colleges and universities are requiring that visitors check in at a central location to obtain a guest pass.
At Tennessee State, campus community members must register their guests ahead of time by letting the enrollment management or event management offices know how long visitors will be staying. In the future, Johnson says there are plans to establish a visitors’ center in an existing building just outside campus where guests would have to register before proceeding.
Issuing parking permits is another way to manage campus access. But for universities that open onto neighborhood streets, there is no way to control all the cars driving onto campus. FSU has a central visitors’ center where guests can ask for directions as well as a special visitors’ parking lot.
Nevertheless, visitors can also park on nearby downtown streets as long as they obey parking regulations and then walk to a campus building.
“I don’t know if there’s a 100 percent foolproof way of controlling visitors, short of running your campus like a military base and issuing permits for every visitor who enters through a controlled entry and exit point,” Perry says. “I know that’s not the feel our campus is trying to accomplish and that’s almost impossible to do on an open campus.”
5. Adopt a layered approach
Whether a school uses fencing, badges or an access control system, those approaches should be combined with other security measures, such as video cameras, guards at entrances, and visitor registration.
When USC enclosed the perimeter of its campus with fencing, officials also installed additional surveillance cameras and hired more security guards to watch over residential halls and the gated entrances to campus.
The Halloween party where the shooting took place was sponsored by a student group that hired a third-party promoter to publicize the event on social media, a strategy that attracted people from outside campus. The university has since banned student groups from using outside promoters to plan campus parties.
In addition, USC is increasing the number of buildings that have access control. “We are slowly converting them all where we can to total card access,” Carlisle says.
Another approach is to implement different security measures for different areas of campus. Most universities, for example, restrict access to residence halls, rare book collections and laboratories that conduct sensitive research.
“Look at it in layers,” says Glenn Rosenberg, vice president for higher education at AlliedBarton Security Services. “You might provide access to certain portions of the campus. Visitor management access is not about the campus as much as it is about access to appropriate facilities or sections of a campus.”
Sherrie Negrea is a writer based in Ithaca, N.Y.