"This is very difficult, because it is an open society and open campus," said Charles Steger, Virginia Tech's president. "The best thing we can do is report what people are suspicious but we can't have armed guard in front of every class every day."
Even before the shooting at Virginia Tech, administrators across at colleges across the country were being forced to rethink security. And at many schools, they're starting with the students themselves.
For the first time this year, the Common Application, an admissions form used by some 300 colleges, asks potential students whether they've been convicted of a crime or have been disciplined at school. The idea: is to weed out the bad seeds before they disappear into the student body.
"Crime and campus security was one reason some of our members asked that we add a discipline question. Liability concerns was another reason," said Rob Killion, executive director of the Common Application.
Critics say screening students does little more than limit access to higher education to kids with a rocky past, but after today…
"I think it may be harder to make the argument that you shouldn't be asking that question anymore," said Killion.
Still, it does nothing to protect a wide open campus from an outside threat. At the University of North Texas, campus police are trained just like a big city force.
"We have a critical response team on campus which is very similar to a swat team," said Ed Reynolds, deputy police chief at the University of North Texas.
Perhaps just as good as reaching students quickly, would be warning students quickly. A handful of companies, like e2Campus, now offer instant messaging services, where with the click of a mouse a campus administrator could alert students on their cell phones or PDAs within minutes.
Nearly two dozen schools have signed up in the last six months.
"As you well can imagine, anyone receiving a sensational message like this would have told everybody within earshot and taken the appropriate action," said Nick Gustavsson of e2Campus.
The cost — about a dollar per student per year — is a bargain when you consider it might buy students enough time to get out of the line of fire.