Faculty and staff at every college and university in the United States like to talk about the real-world, hands-on education it imparts to its students.
At Onondaga Community College, part of the State University of New York system, a select group of students are not only rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty in preparation for future careers, but also saving the school money while making its campus safer.
In recent years, the college's security operation has been burdened by decreases in funding, increases in enrollment, and growing use of campus facilities for revenue-raising events, both internal and external. Forced literally to do more—that is, take care of a larger population and ensure safety at more events—with less, OCC turned to students, a previously untapped population, for help.
"I started out looking into utilizing one student as an intern, and we had such interest from the student body that we decided to grow it into something bigger," says Doug Kinney, vice president for campus safety and security. "The first semester we were able to have 10 students involved."
Now in its third semester, the college's Student Security Patrol program trains freshmen and sophomores (OCC is a two-year institution) to serve on Campus Safety and Security's walking unit and information desk detail. Students in the walking unit check and secure buildings, monitor parking areas, conduct area checks in residence halls, and assist security officers with patrols. The information desk detail, housed in an academic building, receives and maintains found property and operates as a satellite office of the main safety and security function.
Intended originally as an internship, the expanded program puts students to work for their campus and their futures.
In the three months after the Student Security Patrol was established, its members worked 400 hours, saving the college $6,000 in salary alone; the overtime and benefits that didn't need to be funded push that figure even higher.
The program also has had benefits unrelated to efficiency. Patrol members endure a rigorous application process, one that includes a background screening and four to six weeks of training, as well as 50 hours of required volunteer service before they can be employed at certain campus events. Once this is completed, they are licensed as New York State security guards, an enormous plus in their efforts to obtain bachelor's degrees and find employment in law enforcement.
Students accept the program's peer-to-peer nature, Kinney reports, though others needed a bit of an education.
"Our local fire department was hesitant to allow my students in a building when we were trying to evacuate it for a fire alarm," he says. "At the time, I don't think they understood that these students were trained security guards, and we hold them to different standards than the average student."
Kinney was succinct when asked if OCC had learned any lessons from the Student Security Patrol program.
"We have a never-ending supply of very high-quality students; great kids," he says. "Don't overlook the student body as a source of help."