Commuting on the rise?
Updated: Feb 1
by Gabriele Eubanks
Bella Galli, a junior majoring in elementary education, was a residential student at Rochester University for her first two years of college, but after the loss of her grandmother, whom she was extremely close to, she started her junior year as a commuter because she really missed spending time with her family.
Though it is common for upperclassmen at colleges to transition into a commuter lifestyle, the percent of college freshmen who commute is increasing every year. Susannah Snider, senior editor of usnews.com found that nearly 20% of freshmen at nationally ranked universities were commuters in 2013. According to the College Board, “40 percent of full-time college students at public universities and 64 percent at private universities live on-campus. The remainder of students live off-campus or with their parents.”
The increasing number of commuters, as opposed to campus residents at RU, is obvious if you just look in the right places. If you were to walk into the cafeteria at lunch-time on a chapel Tuesday, you would see full tables and a line going out of the door. But if you were to walk into that same cafeteria on a Wednesday at the same time, you would notice a big difference in atmosphere and population.
As college education becomes more common, prospective students look for any way they can save money while getting their education. Dr. Sharia Hays, dean of students at RU, said, “There’s this myth that commuting is cheaper than residential life,” but she says commuting might seem like a cheaper option, but it can be more expensive after adding up the costs.
A common stereotype of commuters is that they care less about their education, and Hays says several studies show that residential students perform better academically than commuters do.
But if that is the case and cost efficiency is a misconception, then why are more students commuting?
Hays explained the appeal of the commuter lifestyle in that it allows for a more diverse schedule than on-campus living and sees it as an easier fit for older students as they start their life off-campus through internships and possible careers.
But this does not explain the increase in the freshmen commuting population. Though some colleges require that freshmen live on campus, statistics by the Higher Education Research Institute’s recent survey found that 56.2% of high school seniors attend colleges within 50 miles of their home and another 12.7% on top of that attend colleges within 100 miles of their home.
Students are becoming more prone to basing their college choices on proximity and accessibility than anything else. This mindset of a cheap and easy education leads to the stereotype that commuting students are not as invested in their educations and also shows the accuracy of Hays’ statement that residential students do better academically.
“You have to figure out what works for you as a student and what you want from your experience in college,” Hays said.
After two years of residential life and the tragic loss of her grandmother, Galli decided that she missed being at home with her family, but she is glad she had those years on campus.
“I loved living on campus the first two years,” she said. “It made it so much easier to just be there and take advantage of every opportunity that was taking place on campus.” Galli agreed with Hays in that living on campus for at least the first two years is beneficial and establishes
a community around students to support them.
Though many students do transition from residents to commuters, cases of the opposite happening at RU do exist. Community Leader Ethan Howard, a junior majoring in ministry, along with Community Leader Joshua Phipps, a junior majoring in accounting, both made the transition from being commuters to campus residents in order to be CLs.
Dan Gianoutsos, master of public administration at California State University, said commuters are naturally a more diverse group of people and for the RU campus this could not be more true. Considering a majority of the students at RU are commuters, there is a lot of diversity and backgrounds to consider. Even one of RU’s faculty members, James Dawson, associate professor of education, commutes all the way from Canada.
The conflicting choice between the on-campus experience and the comforts of living at home is one many students struggle with, though typically students who live locally will choose the commuter life over the expenses of room and board.
Hays said she believes on-campus living to be a helpful step toward independence for incoming freshmen and sophomores, but she also stated that college students are less likely to travel more than an hour away for school.
Some studies show that this trend of commuting over campus residency is affecting the lives of those in small college communities. A United States Census Bureau study found that “smaller communities were more likely to have poverty rates affected by students who live off-campus. But new findings show a similar impact in some of the largest counties in the United States that are home to multiple colleges and universities.”
As college students, we often find ourselves second-guessing our decisions, even changing majors multiple times for some. But when it comes to residency or commuting, Hays said it best, “You have to figure out what works for you.”