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The New Higher Ed Campus: What Your Key Security Needs Now

In the post-pandemic environment, higher education facilities planning is a lot like playing Tetris — as soon as you have a perfectly positioned grid, the game drops a shape that doesn’t fit.

The State of Facilities in Higher Education report (8th edition) by Gordian and APPA delves into how institutions are having to rethink their budgets to remain open. Why not view challenges as opportunities? You can focus your budget on priorities like:

  • Optimizing space utilization
  • Realigning investments to protect the institution
  • Reimagining the campus community
  • Prioritizing the safety and security of students and employees

Electronic key control can help you tackle some of these facilities management goals.

Space Utilization

Space and asset utilization is the second highest priority for facility asset planning. This endeavor becomes tricky as students return to campus (or not) and staff work from home more than they did pre-pandemic.

Facility Asset Focus Top Priorities
Source: Tradeline, Inc.

Rethinking Space

The overarching challenge is predicting how much space is actually necessary. Campuses leaning on virtual education need less physical space. There’s also the matter of office areas — more than half of school leaders see a need for more flexible staff and faculty offices. Mix in declining enrollment and degrading campus conditions, and you have quite the puzzle to sort out.

Providing Flexible Access Control

Students, contractors, faculty, and staff all require secure access tailored to their individual needs. With fewer dedicated-purpose spaces and more staff working from home, meeting this need isn’t easy.

Further Reading 
As students return, is your campus secure?


To address access issues, some campuses use electronic door locks. In the 2021 Campus Safety Access Control and Lockdown Survey, 84% of respondents said they’d purchased card and/or biometric access control systems, and another 45% said they’re planning to add those systems in the next two years.

However, not all campuses have the budget to implement electronic locks on every single door throughout campus, especially if it requires retrofitting aging facilities. To make things more complicated, 86% of respondents find tracking and managing keys challenging.

How is it possible to give people the keys they need without compromising security?

Managing Physical Keys, Cards, and Fobs

Electronic key control helps bridge the gap between high-tech access control measures and buildings that use traditional metal keys. You can secure keys in a central location and allow authorized users to remove the keys they need, giving them flexible access to campus spaces.

Just as electronic door locks give you an audit trail of who’s accessing a door, the right key control system allows you to assign authorized key holders and automatically record who’s accessed, removed, and returned keys. It can store fobs or access cards as well.

Using an electronic key management system also alleviates the burden on key control officers.

Using an electronic key management system also alleviates the burden on key control officers, because they don’t need to be present for an authorized user to retrieve keys. For example, a professor needing access to a lab or office space for which they don’t have a permanently assigned key can log in to the system, check out the key they need, and return it when they’re done.

As your campus evolves, prioritize how you’ll provide flexible access to your facilities without compromising security.

Campus-Wide Collaboration

One of the unexpected side effects of the pandemic is that it forced departments across campus to collaborate to solve a problem. Now that you know the potential to successfully work together is there, how can you continue that momentum?

 “The pandemic revealed the immense potential for collaboration.… While no one is eager (or able) to sustain the 24/7 crisis mode that almost became normal operating mode for much of 2020, new organizational relationships have clearly released potential that cannot be lost.” — State of Facilities report, Gordian and APPA

Key and access control is a perfect opportunity for campus-wide collaboration. Different departments often have their own separate key control procedures. However, they’re all vital to the campus community, so having them work together makes sense. As a residence life director put it, residence life, physical operations, and campus security are like a three-legged stool. 

One way these departments can team up is by having a single key control policy and system. With fewer differences in policies, processes, and technology, people are less likely to make mistakes — especially if someone has a reason to use keys on multiple areas of campus. 

With fewer differences in policies, processes, and technology, people are less likely to make mistakes.

Using the same type of electronic key and access control systems throughout the institution also helps enforce your institution’s key and access control policy. By automatically authenticating users and specifying which user roles are authorized to check out certain keys, you won’t have people removing keys they shouldn’t. In addition, overdue key alerts will help ensure people return keys in a timely manner. With these measures in place, you’ll be better able to identify, report, and correct safety and security concerns. 

Thinking about how your campus manages access in different departments, consider the following questions:

  • Is there an overarching access control and key security plan that holds all areas of the university to the same standards?
  • Does your policy regulate the creation of master keys and fobs?
  • Are all key holders adequately trained on how to handle keys?
  • Do all students and staff know how to request a key or access to flexible spaces?
  • Is there a routine process for collecting former employees’ keys, fobs, and access cards and revoking their access privileges on their last day?

By collaborating on a campus-wide key management plan and process, you’ll reduce risk, miscommunications, and confusion.

Risk Management and Security

As your campus begins to use space differently and you implement more technology to accommodate your evolving campus, risk assessments will also change. However, with limited capital available for facility improvements, campus leaders will have to decide how much risk they’re willing to assume and prioritize what solutions they’ll invest in.

In a time of shrinking enrollment and budget, the reputation damage and expensive rekeying costs from a physical security breach would be detrimental to your campus.

With virtual classrooms and electronic access control, cybersecurity is sure to be toward the top of the list — as it should be. However, it’s also important to adjust your physical security program, especially if your campus is emptier than in pre-pandemic times.

Protecting physical keys is an important part of your risk management and security strategy. In a time of shrinking enrollment and budget, the reputation damage and expensive rekeying costs from a physical security breach would be detrimental to your campus.

Whitepaper  (1)

Electronic key control complements cybersecurity by:

  • Securing keys and any pre-programmed fobs or access cards
  • Protecting staff and students
  • Creating automatic audit trails of key access
  • Helping prevent physical security breaches
  • Storing and tracking spare physical keys for electronic locks in case there’s a cyberattack or power outage
  • Providing vendors secure, trackable access to keys
  • Sending automatic alerts to system administrators if a key isn’t returned on time or if a user attempts to remove a key they’re not unauthorized to use
  • Setting up user accounts to automatically expire if they require temporary access

Budgets are tight, and you’ll have to make some tough decisions about where to redirect funds. But don’t do so at the expense of key control. Protecting your campus and helping staff and students feel safe when they’re on campus is worth the investment.

The facilities management puzzle is more challenging and dynamic than ever, but electronic key control can help you fit some of those moving pieces together. You’ll be able to provide secure, flexible access to keys, help departments across campus work together, and mitigate security risks.

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