CBSN

The Cellular Campus

Cellular, Mobile, Cell Phone, Phones, Generic, RKF
AP
Instead of paying 9 cents a minute through Sonoma State University, 20-year-old Sadie Gardere pays a flat monthly rate of $45 for a nationwide long distance plan that covers her calls home to the Bay Area.

Savvy students like Gardere are saving money for themselves, but costing cash-strapped public universities millions of dollars by not using the school-provided telephone services in residence halls and dorm rooms.

Universities say it is only a matter of time before they will have to consider raising student costs to make up the difference.

"I would imagine, if there continues to be a further drop, it would be reasonable to expect there would be an increase in tuition," said Toni Beron, a spokeswoman for California State University, Long Beach.

The Federal Communications Commission estimates that nationwide, 61 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds carry cell phones.

Years ago, universities could make good money serving as mini phone companies, said Sherry Manning, director and CEO of Educational Communications and Consortia Incorporated, a national university telephone billing service.

Universities became wholesalers, charging slightly more than they paid for service but less than local carriers.

Eventually, however, students started using calling cards and long distance dialing because the advertising was aimed at the youth population, Manning said.

"And now, everyone is shocked that students use the Internet and cell phones as much as they do," she said.

Travis Larson, a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, a Washington-based wireless trade group, said it's logical students would use cell phones because in the span of four years, they could live with a dozen different people and move four times.

"Just imagine the nightmare at the end of the month trying to divide up the phone bill," Larson said.

Although many universities contract out phone services through their local telephone provider, many, like the University of California, Davis, have implemented their own switchboard. Either way, officials say, they are still losing out.

"Schools are saying, I am an educator, not a telephone service," Manning said.

The University of California, Santa Barbara has lost $500,000 in the last two years. Chico State has lost $400,000 in the last year. At the University of Rhode Island, student telephone billing has dropped from about $800,000 a year five years ago to just $100,000.

Some schools were hesitant to release figure numbers. Most campuses use the money to offset housing and telephone service costs.

"Clearly it has been a problem," said Paul Valenzuela, associate director of communications services at UCSB, which charges 10 cents a minute for long distance calls through its own switchboard. "The last couple crops of freshman have been more cell phone oriented. They are also using e-mail and instant messenger technology more."

As a result, some college campuses are going all wireless, dropping landline telephones and equipping students with cell phones and hand-held computers. Those campuses include Washington's American University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

The FCC estimates that 3 to 5 percent of the country's population has dropped standard telephone land lines for cell phone use only.

Greg Roberts, director of marketing and national promotions at Cingular Wireless, said wireless providers are always trying to improve coverage, and campuses that go wireless will have some unique advantages.

"Teachers could tell students class is canceled because of a snow day and students could access homework information and sporting events," Roberts said.

Others, like the University of Wyoming, may invent their own calling cards for students.

UC Davis, which reports a 12 percent drop in the number of students using its phone service in the last three years, is lowering landline phone rates to be competitive with wireless and telephone long distance companies.

UC Davis charges less than it did two years ago, and students can tap into online Web services to subscribe for phone service when they enroll, said Doug Hartline, director of communication resources.

But when cell phones can offer unlimited night and weekend minutes, as well as free long distance, they seem like a much better choice, Gardere said.

"I am renting a house next year with some friends and unless I run into a problem, I will just continue to use my cell phone then too," she said. "It's just easier."