Students get convenience with a click

No coins needed for machines that e-mail when laundry's done


A common college dilemma: You're down to your last T-shirt and need to do laundry. But the only idle machine has a load of wet clothes in it, the owner of which is nowhere to be found.

Do you take the clothes out of the washer, grabbing a mysterious lump that potentially contains gym shorts, old socks and who knows what? Or do you sit and wait?

That problem may go the way of the VCR at Goucher, Villa Julie and other colleges that have replaced coin-operated washers and dryers with swipe-card models that send students an e-mail when their load is done.

In an era where college students can be amazingly pampered - Duke University hands out iPods to those taking music or language classes, for instance - the laundry e-mail service still impresses students, who say it frees them to spend more time on their academics.

"It allows me to get back to things I should be doing, like studying," said Jeffrey Jankoviak, a freshman at Villa Julie.

College administrators say that's the idea. "They don't have to sit around so much, so they can go study instead," said Calvin E. Gladden, director of auxiliary services at Goucher College. "That's what we hope that they're doing, anyway."

Many schools have washers and dryers that can be operated with the swipe of a student ID card, which these days functions as a type of credit card that students use to pay for everything from meals to books.

"When my kids were in college, they were always looking for quarters. It kind of blows the mind," said Steven Engorn, Villa Julie's chief information officer.

But a system known as eSuds takes the convenience a step further. When a student swipes his identification card in the washing machine, the system not only handles payment, but it notifies the student when the load is done.

The student chooses how to be reached - via e-mail or text message on a computer or cell phone.

Before making the trip to the laundry room, students can check a Web site that tells them which machines are being used and when the loads in progress will be finished - although it can't say whether there are wet clothes sitting in a washer. If students have a favorite machine, they can be e-mailed when it is free.

About 10 schools nationwide, including Rutgers and Temple, use the eSuds system.

Even for students who grew up with wireless Internet and cell phones, having a washer alert you when the spin cycle is complete is pretty neat.

"I thought I'd have to fight for machines. Or that I'd have to haul all of my stuff downstairs and just wait. It didn't appeal to me much at all," said Lindsay Kohut, a Villa Julie freshman from Leonardtown. "This is much better."

Campus administrators like the system because it cuts down on students' complaints.

"We used to get calls all the time about how `The machines are all tied up and I've got to sit around,'" said Goucher's Gladden. The college experimented with eSuds last semester and put it in all dorms this fall. The students "were overwhelmingly in favor of it," he said.

Some colleges with eSuds, including Villa Julie, adopt a system where they charge students a flat laundry fee at the beginning of the semester, alleviating the need for further accounting. "We like to think that they do their laundry more because it's more convenient, but we're not sure," said Kristan Gregory, a spokesman for Caldwell & Gregory Inc., which manages eSuds in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Environmentally conscious critics of the flat-fee arrangement worry that, since the laundry is already paid for, students might waste water and electricity by washing small loads.

Students interviewed said there's little danger of that.

"Most of the time, I just try and get as many clothes in the washer as possible," said Marc Payne, a freshman at Villa Julie. "Laundry is laundry. I don't like it that much."

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