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Insurance an option for college students

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By CYNTHIA McCLOUD
For The State Journal

College students may not be living under their parents' roofs, but they're not completely out from under their insurance coverage.

Dorm dwellers may find some of their possessions, particularly electronics, covered under their parents' homeowner's policies. But coverage and restrictions vary from insurer to insurer.

There are several things parents and their college students can do to protect electronics from damage and theft or replace them if the need arises.

This fall, Rick Bailey, a State Farm agent in Fairmont, will move his daughter Reghan to West Virginia University for the first time.

"The broadest and best coverage an individual can have for a child's laptop is a personal articles policy," Bailey said. 

It can cost less than $50 a year. Unlike a homeowner's policy, it doesn't have a deductible and it will replace the computer if it's taken from a car or other location not limited to a dorm room.

A personal articles policy, which not all insurers offer, is a separate policy. Homeowner's insurance covers some dorm room contents. 

For apartment dwellers, Bailey recommends renter's insurance to replace other possessions in case of fire or theft. 

Gerald Stebbins, dean of students at Bethany College, where all students are required to live in campus housing, recommends renter's insurance, too. Like a landlord, the college insures the building but not the contents of students' rooms. 

Bethany has seen an increase of students bringing fireproof safes to lock up important papers, he said.

"In students' rooms the most important security device they have is the lock on the door," Stebbins said. "Lock the doors any time you're not in your room. 

"We do an exercise with our students," he said. "We'll go through the residence halls and we'll try doors. If we find one unlocked, we lock it – we don't go in – and we slip a note under the door that says ‘We found your door unlocked' as a reminder to students that they could've been ripped off."

Bethany's residence life staff also takes advantage of teachable moments in the dining hall.

"We see students come to the dining hall and set their keys and backpack down to save a seat and then disappear," Stebbins said. "We all eat in the dining hall. We'll sit down until they return and we can tell them ‘That's not a good idea'. It's a small-scale personal approach."

There are other precautions students can take.

"I'd always recommend a surge protector," Stebbins said. "They're a good way to try to protect those belongings from power surges and lightning storms and things like that."

For added security, the Baileys bought a lock that will keep Reghan's laptop closed, rendering it useless to anyone who takes it. 

Stebbins has had parents at orientation ask about laptop locks.

"That's a very good tool if students use them, but I think students won't use them after a short amount of time," he said.

Because small electronics are easier to steal, Stebbins recommends taking measures to make tracking property easier.

"We encourage all our students, particularly if they have a smartphone, to use a ‘find my phone' app. If something happens, it greatly helps to find the item and get it back to an individual," Stebbins said.

Bethany has a tool students can check out with their student ID and use to mark their property: an engraver.

"We encourage all students to make some identifying mark on their property," Stebbins said. "Put your initials on your phone or on your laptop. You can engrave anything you want on there. Some people used to engrave their driver's license numbers. In instances where we've recovered stolen property, it has made our job easier."

Bethany is a small school and students can quickly become complacent.

 "We're a microcosm of society," Stebbins said. "Though the college works hard to keep everyone and their things safe, the students have to do their part."