Editor’s Note: Buses, subways, Uber, trains, cars – and where to park? Help! Will I make it to class on time? It’s rarely talked about, but just getting to college can be such a drag. And community college students have it much worse than their four-year counterparts – stats tell us practically all community college students commute, and over 70 percent have jobs, too. The typical cost for a community college student to commute is nearly $1800 a year – more than the cost of books ($1400; source: The College Board, 2016). And that’s $700 more than what a four-year college student pays for travel! It’s hard enough getting through college as a harried community college student – and now add all of this frustration just to get to class on time?! Our writer, Telijah Patterson, investigates how you can make your commute easier. Ease your mind and cruise to better attendance and grades.
By Telijah Patterson
Everyday nearly 20% of college freshmen leave their home and commute to school. They travel by bike, car, bus, train, or even boat. The vast majority attend community colleges and decide to live off-campus to save money or simply because their school does not offer on-campus housing. Data shows that 95.4% of full-time community college students live at home and commute. The average distance traveled to school by community college students is about 10 miles one way. But what are the true costs for students who commute? Some experts worry that the possible complications outweigh the cost in savings citing concerns such as lack of ability to engage in campus life to difficulties in coordinating group projects because everyone lives in different places, while others say the impact is negligible.
Students who use public transportation to commute to college can often simply plug in some earbuds, sit back, and zone out while someone else takes the wheel. Some even use their commute time to catch up on homework or class readings. On the other hand, students who use their own vehicles to commute do not have the same luxury and must be on high alert. We break down how commuting to college could be affecting your life:
Several studies indicate that freshmen commuters graduate at lower rates than their counterparts who life on campus. For some students, however, commuting is a better option because it keeps them focused. Interestingly, some students feel that being a commuter helped them to improve their academics. Rachelle Walter of Front Range Community College in Colorado noted in a blog post on the college’s site, “When I go home, it is easy for me to have uninterrupted homework time when I need to get something done. My homework gets done faster, and then I have more time to go have fun or to relax.”
Studies indicate that commuter students are less involved in campus life through clubs and school events. However, community colleges often try to designate club time during a time that is convenient to most students. For example at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, most classes do not run during club time and there are two designated days of the week clubs can meet. Walter continues in her blog post, “When not living on campus, it takes more effort to be involved on campus, but it makes the experience that much better.”
Impacts vary depending on the students. For some students commuting can be tiring, but some find the silver lining in their situation. Walter writes, “I have gotten a chance to grow up and learn how to live on my own and deal with more responsibility. For example, I started paying my own rent and bills. To do this, I learned how to balance household chores, work, and school and have found an enjoyment out of this accomplishment.”
If commuting to campus is your only option, there are things you can do to make it an easier experience:
Khadijah Shuaib, a sophomore LaGuardia Community College who has a 45 minute commute to school taking the train says, “I think commuting does not have a negative affect on my schooling unless I’m taking the MTA and there are delays.” She offers this advice, “Leave home a little earlier.”
Have a good schedule
Anny Tsee, also a sophomore at LaGuardia Community College, who has a 30 minute commute via train, feels, “I don’t think [commuting] affects me because it’s quite near where I live and transferring two trains is pretty normal.” She suggests having a good schedule.
Seek employment on campus
Tom Delahunt, vice president for admission and student financial planning at Drake University, a private residential campus in Iowa, suggests that a way to be more involved in student activities is to look for a job on-campus as a way to earn money and engage in the college community. Working on campus eliminates extra travel costs associated with outside work and can even help to reduce levels of stress.
Talk to someone
There are programs in place to make commuting time and costs easier for students, such as ASAP (Accelerated Study Associates Program), which provides free public transportation cards for up to three years while a student is attending classes, or even SingleStop, which can help or refer you to an agency that can find housing closer to the school, thereby reducing your commute time. Speak to your advisor to inquire about programs that exist on your campus.
While the jury is still out on the impact of commuting to school has on students, each individual circumstance is different and can be leveraged, with the right planning!