Landlines remain, but cell phones are preferred by students

Tyrel Linkhorn

Walk across a busy, mid-day campus and dozens of students can be seen doing a sort of multitasking — moving to their next destination while talking on their cell phones.

According to a study done late last spring, 90 percent of Kent State students have cell phones, said Jim Zentmeyer, associate director of Residence Services. And, Zentmeyer said, students are saying it’s rare if they use a landline.

During the Fall 2006 semester, out of 3,970 phone lines in residence hall rooms, only 1,278 were used, said Bob Hart, manager of Network and Telecom Services.

The reason: Cellular phones have taken their place.

What still remains though is Residence Services’ bill for providing the phone service — nearly $600,000 yearly.

A national trend

“What’s happening around the country is what’s happening here,” said Betsy Joseph, director of Residence Services.

The national numbers mirror those of Kent State. Student Monitor, an organization that researches trends among college students, reported that nationally 95 percent of college students carried cell phones as of Fall 2006.

Joseph came to Kent State about two and a half years ago. Last fall, spurred by numbers that studies such as the Student Monitor were reporting, she and her department began tracking data about landline usage at Kent State.

After one year of research, the landline decline is very apparent.

For Fall 2005, more than 2,100 residence hall lines were used. This past fall’s usage dropped to 1,278.

Hart said outgoing off-campus calls, the only calls Network and Telecom Services can trace, had dropped to 68,148 last semester. This represents a drop of about 50,000 from Fall 2005.

Voicemail boxes, available to every on-campus resident, are also rarely used. Joseph said 21 percent were logged in to last semester.

The cost of service

Each year, Residence Services spends $592,200 providing landline service for the residence halls, Joseph said. Breaking it down room-by-room, it’s close to $150 per room each year.

But doing away with the landlines now isn’t much of an option — Hart said the university is under contract through 2010.

“Once you spend money on something, the phone company isn’t going to say ‘OK you don’t have to pay because you don’t need it anymore,'” Joseph said. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve not moved forward with (removing the lines). And we still have some students utilizing the services. Getting rid of it (now) would benefit no one.”

Though the contract is a major roadblock for any near-future changes, Joseph said that at the time it was made no one could have expected the cell phone explosion, so it was a good financial decision.

In 2000, the year the contract was created, 43 percent of college students nationwide had cell phones, according to the Student Monitor.

“Schools were making decisions for that point in time back then and it made sense,” she said.

When the contract expires in three years, however, something different may be done. Joseph and Zentmeyer both said discussions have taken place on the possibility of removing the landlines.

How to answer the call

“At some point we would need to be looking at replacing equipment, and I don’t want to be spending money on it if no one is using it,” Joseph said.

Students pay for all the services provided by Residence Services, and Joseph said if they aren’t using a service, they shouldn’t be paying for it.

“We don’t want to have a feature that students aren’t utilizing,” she said.

Zentmeyer said it’s a tough question whether to go with the “tried and true or go with new technology.” He also said a drawback of doing away with landlines would be losing a traditional avenue of communication between the university and students.

“The debate will probably continue because the thing that we don’t want to do is lose that specific contact point,” he said.

In addition to losing the university communication point, there are still students who use the landlines.

The continuing debate

Ryan Dittman, junior flight technology major and a resident assistant in Centennial Court F, said he uses his landline telephone for his RA duties.

“I use it so I don’t have to give out my personal cell number,” Dittman said.

Joseph said some usage still occurs with students calling room-to-room, opting to save their mobile minutes by using the “Five is Free” system Kent State has had in place since 2000. This service allows on-campus residents to call any number on this or one of the seven branch campuses for free by dialing the last five digits of the number.

While his RA duties keep Dittman frequently calling between residence halls, he said if he weren’t an RA, he likely wouldn’t use the landline.

That student stance has already spurred some universities to take action.

A possible outcome?

The University of Scranton, in Scranton, Pa., eliminated landlines for its 2,250 residence hall students at the beginning of this academic year and has seen no major complaints. They still provide community phones in each residence hall.

Barbara Eagen, Residence Life secretary at the University of Scranton, said there were multiple reasons for the removal.

“We are a cell phone campus,” she said. “It was a student choice. They weren’t setting up their voicemails.”

The lack of use led to another problem.

“We were wasting a ton of money,” Eagen said. “And they were preferring to leave us with cell phone numbers. It’s just more economical.”

A similar outcome, though on a much larger level, is possible at Kent State.

If the trend of rapidly declining usage continues, Joseph said, it’s likely the landline service won’t continue in Kent State’s residence halls much beyond 2010.

For your information:

  • Read a recent Daily Kent Stater story on Mobile Campus, a text message service that connects students, faculty and staff.
  • View more communication costs from Kent State’s 2005 Network and Telephone Cost Schedule.
  • Read more about how Americans are using their cell phones from a Pew Internet Research study.

Contact online correspondent Tyrel Linkhorn at [email protected].