Revolutionizing Student Housing - Geokey
Uncategorized | 8 min
Revolutionizing Student Housing
Geokey Marketing Team | July 17, 2023

Why Legacy Access Control is Holding Us Back

Student housing has been around for a long time, with some dorm buildings dating back to the 17th century. Since then, colleges and universities have been constructing and retrofitting more buildings to house students, especially throughout the past century, as attending college has become more mainstream, with some university attendance growing by the hundreds each year.

However, many older buildings in student housing lack the modern upgrades and amenities of newer constructions. One area where student housing needs to catch up is access control systems. While other campus buildings use digital locks and fobs for access, dorm rooms still rely on traditional lock and key systems. As these systems have been in practice for a long time, why change it?

As many students and university faculty are now starting to realize, the old system of doing things might not be as reliable as it used to be. We have found through calls and correspondence with facility directors, and operational VPs that relying on older access control systems is, in fact, quickly becoming a liability. Why is this, and what exactly is the solution?

The Liability of Keys and Fobs

Keys have quickly become a liability, mainly due to how often they are used and how easily the locking mechanism can be exploited. Videos showing people breaking through locks are constantly cycling through popular social media sites, so the information on how to do it is relatively easy to find. While the millions of viewers of these videos might have no intention of ever breaking through a lock, what these videos have done is show that lock and keys will not keep someone out if they want to get in.

The same liabilities that exist for keys are also prevalent for commonly used digital locks, such as fob/card readers. While the dangers might be less apparent, as one cannot just lockpick a reader, there are numerous stories about people being able to bypass readers and trick them into letting unauthorized personnel enter.

Fobs release radio waves that transmit a “barcode” that a reader receives, identifies, and, if the barcode in the system has the correct credentials, grants entrance to the fob holder. While providing better security than a lock and key, they still have significant flaws that can jeopardize the security of an access point. The biggest issue comes from the fob itself: it is small and can be easily lost or stolen. The barcode transmitted from the fob can also be replicated relatively quickly, allowing anyone who finds an approved fob or the credentials list to access the reader (read more in our article on Firmware Readers vs. Hardware Agnostic).

The Effect on Student Health and Security

According to the NAA, safety, and security rank as one of the top considerations for parents when choosing housing options for their college-bound children. This should not be a big surprise given the increase in student physical and mental health risks that have risen within the past decades.

A study conducted by US News in 2022 showed that 52% of students in a 2-year and 43% of students in a 4-year college setting experienced some form of housing insecurity, jumping by nearly 23% from the previous year. In this case, housing insecurity is related to housing and housing conditions, such as whether they feel safe or not in their living environment. This same article highlighted that students facing housing insecurity have poorer health, higher rates of depression and anxiety, and lower GPAs than their peers.

While taken separately, the issues of access control and student health might seem unrelated. However, how safe a student feels directly impacts their mental well-being, translating into their social life and how they perform in school. A dorm room is a student’s sanctuary, and feeling unsafe in a hall or room can be very harmful to them psychologically.

For how access control impacts a student’s physical health, look no further than the emphasis schools place on enforcing Title IX policies. Title IX was passed in the 1970s to combat sexual discrimination in education and education programs, covering sexual harassment and abuse. Many stories have come out of universities about students breaking into students’ dorms and rooms, exploiting the liabilities posed by legacy access control systems, and putting others at risk. Even beyond the severe scope of Title IX, hazing, theft, and “college pranks” all exploit the liabilities of access control and violate the student’s personal space.

The Effect on School Administrators

While the effects on the student body are the primary concern regarding access control, these legacy systems hinder school administrators in other ways. With how rapidly properties have needed to be built and older buildings needing to be updated, universities need to manage hundreds of rooms across many different buildings. New keys and fobs are distributed to thousands of incoming students at the beginning of the school year, and a lot can happen between then and the end of the year. It leaves a lot of time for keys and fobs to be shared around and copied, which is a significant concern.

Locks must be rekeyed, and other systems have to fill in the holes left by legacy access control. Without systems in place to validate who is entering where, anyone with a key, key copy, or fob can enter places they should not be by impersonating the original holder, which can pose a major security risk to faculty, staff, and the student body.

How Mobile Access Control Fixes the Problems

With how well-known and understood these issues are, it is surprising that only a few companies are pursuing student housing as a market for innovative access control. The student body and administration want more from their access control than a simple deterrent. They want security, accountability, and something to make student life less stressful, manageable, and within budget. The solution to all of the issues is an integrated access control solution that guarantees the right people have access, allows the administration to manage all of their access points properly, and is more than a simple deterrent.

This is where Geokey’s cutting-edge mobile access control solution stands to change the game of access control for student housing: by providing that ease of mind for faculty and students while also creating a secure environment while making life easier. With 15 out of 20 Access Control installers now recommending that Mobile Access can replace keys/fobs, what benefits does Geokey bring to the student-housing table?

Decreased Liability

One of the best parts about Geokey’s solution is that it decreases and eliminates the liabilities posed by legacy access control. Hardware integrated with the Geokey app can only be opened with the user’s phone: the credentials are assigned through the cloud. Unlike a key or a fob, the likelihood of someone’s phone being passed around or lost is significantly decreased, especially with some of the statistics coming out today about phone usage showing that 75% of Americans feel uneasy leaving their phone at home (and that is not focusing specifically on Gen Z, who is primarily entering higher education and has grown up with cell phones). On top of that, phones already have several protections in place against unauthorized users, both online and in person, which adds an extra level of security.

For that added level of security, unlike firmware readers, where the credentials are built into the reader’s firmware, the app acts as both the credentials and the reader: the door can only be unlocked from the phone. For students, this ensures that only they can access their space. For administrators, the accountability they want is present. Unlike keys, the door being unlocked by the user is logged by the Geokey platform, accessible only to school administrators. This can help with auditing, and if something malicious occurs, the information can be verified and the record set straight.

Students can feel secure in their rooms and dorm buildings, while administrators can feel at ease knowing their students are safe and being held accountable.

Increase Operational Efficiency

Geokey does more than secure a college’s property: it helps increase and streamline operational efficiency. Thanks to the Geokey platform, administrators can assign credentials and students to their rooms, eliminating the hassle that usually comes with the first weekend when students are given their keys. Administrators can manage all of their access points from anywhere. Administrators can immediately grant and remove credentials, remotely open doors, and grant permissions to students and other approved faculty, such as janitorial staff.

Geokey is for both new developments and retrofits alike, and thanks to our solution being scalable, new access points can be added with relative ease. Geokey hardware is cloud-based and thanks to Microsoft Azure, there is no need to have an on-site system to manage all the credentials and access point data.


Mobile access control eliminates the need to rely on legacy systems, providing a solution that keeps student housing more secure while also helping increase the operational efficiency of school faculty. There is so much more that access control can do, and providing a safe space for students to enjoy their years in higher education is something Geokey is excited to continue pursuing. As awareness grows for the student housing market, we hope that more companies will see the importance of investing in the next generation as they enter some of the most critical years of their lives.

GeoKey Blog

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