Jun 17 2013

Lifeline: Colleges Are Delivering Charging Stations for Mobile Students

Colleges and universities are adding stations so students can juice up their (many) mobile devices throughout the day.

For students who record lectures on their smartphones or take notes on tablets or laptops, running out of battery power can be like running out of paper.

“These devices really help our students,” says Bob Lim, chief information officer at the University of Kansas (KU). “More and more students are bringing devices on campus, and the challenge for them is that their juice runs out fairly quickly.”

More and more students are bringing devices on campus, and the challenge for them is that their juice runs out fairly quickly.

KU is one of a number of colleges and universities that have installed charging stations on campus, with the aim of keeping students powered up. At the urging of student government officials, stations were installed at the university in December, and Lim says they’re a hit with students.

“They’re requesting more,” he says.

Keeping Students Connected

Lim says that charged mobile devices represent more than just a convenience — they also allow students to stay plugged in to the university, and vice versa.

“As we put more of our learning online, our students need to be able to catch up with that,” he says. And especially in emergency situations, it’s important for institutions to have a way to reach students quickly.

Charging stations can also help students connect with one another in real life, bringing them together within university hubs, such as student centers.

“We like to think that could weigh as a positive on someone’s campus visit,” says Patrick Nelson, director of Bowling Green State University’s student union, which recently installed five charging stations. “It wasn’t brought in for that purpose, but it may end up being an additional benefit.”

Many Budgets, Many Options

Several vendors sell and install charging stations and offer many price points and a variety of features. At KU, officials chose to install 20 small wall-mounted charging units at a total cost of $6,100. About the size of a modest wall plaque, with a total of eight charging cords for different devices, the stations are provided at no cost to students and feature a small ledge where students can rest their devices as they charge — but there is nowhere to store them securely.

“We wanted to make sure they weren’t lockers,” Lim says. “We didn’t want to be responsible for the devices, and we didn’t want people storing things and not being able to get them out.”

At Towson University, officials installed a freestanding charging machine that also features a screen on which the university can display marketing messages. Unlike the charging stations at the University of Kansas, Towson’s model provides devices with a rapid boost, delivering a full charge in less than 15 minutes.

Ralph Valle, Towson’s director of marketing and communications, says the cost of the stations also included three years’ maintenance. “Every time I walk around the corner, I see a couple of students sitting on the sofa getting their cell phone charged, so I say this is well worth it.”

We’ve found that students who are carrying laptops are carrying their laptop chargers. They don’t often carry their phone charger with them.

Virginia Tech has installed four wall-mounted, rapid-charge stations, “tied directly into our electrical source, so it’s pulling quite a bit of juice to be able to accommodate those chargers with a quick charge,” says Justin Camputaro, director of student centers and activities. The stations — like those installed at many universities — don’t charge laptops.

“We’ve found that students who are carrying laptops are carrying their laptop chargers,” Camputaro says. “They don’t often carry their phone charger with them.”

Driven by Convenience


Percentage of undergraduate students who use their phones to access email or Internet, compared with only 41 percent of all adults

SOURCE: Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project 2010 tracking surveys.

Bill Redwine, chairman of a technology committee for the National Association of College Auxiliary Services, an association of nonacademic service departments from U.S. colleges, says feedback from schools that have installed charging stations has been positive.

Although colleges could find lower-tech solutions, such as lending out charging cords for students to plug into wall outlets, Redwine says charging stations are more convenient and carry a certain appeal on campus. At Morehead State University, where Redwine is assistant vice president for auxiliary services, his department installed third-party charging stations that were customized with the department’s own logo. “We’re providing a convenience for the students, and we’re marketing auxiliary services at the same time,” he says.

Some schools charge students for the service, but most universities, including Morehead State, provide the service for free, Redwine says. He predicts that the demand for battery power will only grow as students — and everyone else — use more smartphones and other devices. Whether charging stations are the final stop, or whether they will soon be replaced by a better solution, remains to be seen.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see solar chargers,” Redwine says. “The sky’s the limit in technology.”


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