The GPS-equipped phone also serves as a security tool. If a student feels uneasy for any reason -- maybe she's walking across campus late at night or has taken ill -- she can turn on the Rave Guardian, which activates a timer. If the student doesn't turn off the feature before the timer runs out, or answer a call from police after it does, an officer will check on the student. A large screen at the police department displays the locations of students who have turned on the Guardian, and a database stores student profiles, including any medical conditions.

One advantage of Rave Guardian is students can use it in private, Pennington said. "Sometimes the male students, the more macho students, don't necessarily want people to know that they have some of those fears. It gives people the little extra feeling that it's ok to use it, because nobody's judging you."

Goodbye, Dorm Phones

Montclair State also needs the new wireless service to replace standard telephones in its residence halls, which are headed the way of the woolly mammoth. "Students aren't using their landlines," Pennington said, "and we are therefore spending a lot of money for an item that's sitting useless on a desk."

Students used to pay the university for long distance calls from their dorm rooms, and those revenues underwrote the residence hall phone service. These days, students mostly use cell phones for those calls. "We were, and are, at break-even with students who are still using landlines," Chapel said. "But it was clear that we would be in the red in short order." Montclair State is phasing out the residence hall landlines, leaving only the most basic level of service for emergency communications, he said.

As with the landline service, the university charges just enough for Campus Connect to cover costs. "We didn't do this to make a profit, but to have a sustainable system," Chapel said, adding that the school doesn't rule out the possibility of operating the service for a profit someday.

Few students or parents protested when Montclair State made the service mandatory. Kathleen Ragan, associate vice president of Student Development and Campus Life, said less than 5 percent of the population affected by the change complained.

Mandatory programs like Montclair State's aren't common, but it's not unusual today for colleges and universities to offer services based on cell phones, said Jeri Semer, executive director of the Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education. "They're looking for ways they can accommodate the students' desire to use their cell phones, while maintaining and even trying to enhance the campus living and community environment."

Some schools endorse one or more cell phone providers, and develop programs to give their students discounts and special services from those providers, because of volume buying arrangements, Semer said. Others allow students to use whatever phones and service plans they bring to campus.

Lectures on Demand

At Montclair State, administrators are developing new uses for Campus Connect, Ragan said. The university will make the phones a delivery option for Lecture 123, an online program that provides recordings of faculty lectures and other audio material.

"We'll have the critical mass beginning this fall, with an entire entering class using it, to ensure we'll have classrooms where every student has the Campus Connect devices," Chapel said. Then faculty members can start using the phones, for example, to test how well students understand their lessons. "Students can use the cellular phone as a clicker, answer a question, and the data will come up on a projection screen, compiled in real time," he said.

"We're also thinking about having laundry services report to students when their dryers are stopped," Chapel said. The mobile phones could someday serve as authentication tokens to authorize access to restricted locations, he said. And after substantial development and the addition of a magnetic strip or proximity chip, students' cell phones will be their student ID and point-of-sale cards.

Since Montclair State started working with Rave Wireless to develop and test its mobile data services, several other higher educational institutions have implemented Rave applications. Among them are California State University at Monterey Bay, Eastern Michigan University and Georgetown University, to name a few.

Other schools are looking at Montclair State's experience with interest, Pennington said. "I think some are a little more hesitant to go whole hog into this as we have. But they're watching us to see how it goes, and I think some of them will probably pick it up after they see if we've made it work."

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer