For most students at the University of Houston, it makes financial sense to commute to school rather than live on campus, but does it come at the cost of the college experience?
First, it is important to identify what a commuter actually is.
According to The Cougar, a commuter is defined as a college student who does not live in a residence hall or Greek House.
Next, you must find what the definition of an actual college experience is.
According to Daniel F Chambliss, an organizational sociologist at Hamilton College, a positive college experience comes down to factors like the dorms you live in, your friends and your involvement rather than the classrooms.
For most students who commute, a lot of their experience is created by their willingness to be on campus when class is over. The longer a student stays on campus, the more they are going to experience.
“When you’re a commuter, what you experience is a lot like you did in high school,” Teeba Rose, marketing manager for Student Housing and Residential Life, said. “You’re leaving the environment to go do everything else, and then you come back and turn college back on. If you live on campus, college will always be turned on, and you will always be engaged”
To experience the absolute most out of college, you must submerge yourself in it.
Rose said that this is difficult for most commuter students to do because they never get the chance recharge like a residential student gets the luxury to do. A residential student can take time out of the middle of their day to go nap back in their room, while a commuter must return all the way home or nap in their car or on-campus facility. A commuter student is probably trying to get something done quickly to get off campus as soon as possible to go home and finally relax.
While this is a disadvantage for commuter students, this may also play as a disadvantage for residential students.
University of Houston alumna Brittany Taylor said she recollects the pros and cons of being a resident as a freshman and being a commuter for the rest of her years as a student.
“When I was at school, I had an easier option to skip class because I would wake up late thinking I had more time to get to class and then decide not to go if my roommate or friend didn’t go, and we would hang out and eat on campus instead,” Taylor said.
This adds another question into the mix: is the experience just as important as getting good grades and earning your degree?
For some residents, the opportunity to relax may become too easily accessible and allow them to sleep or get sidetracked more often.
Still, living on campus all four years has proven to be more successful academically for residential students than those who commute.
According to Humphrey Review, “research has shown that commuter students are less successful in college as measured by persistence and graduation rates.”
The research does state that the word “commuter” is too broad of a term because the student living down the road doesn’t face the same challenges as the student who lives miles away, but the previous statement does remain true. It largely coincides with the idea of college never being “turned off” for the resident.
When off campus, the commuter plays roles other than student: They may be an employee, wife, husband, son, dad, mom or something else. The resident is always going to play the role of the student.
“The opportunity to stay on track is there, and the opportunity to always see people focused on college is there,” Rose said about residential life. “So, because of that of that engagement, and staying involved, you tend to graduate on time, and with a totally different experience.”
While some students don’t live on campus because they have a family or job to tend to, it doesn’t make financial sense for most to stay on campus.
Student Government Association President Shane Smith said that policies and unfair costs like mandatory meal plans deter students from living on campus. The cheapest meal plan for incoming freshmen is $3700 a year and a little over $8 a meal. If a commuting student chooses to buy a meal plan, they can get a meal for a little over $6.
When adding up the costs, having to pay anywhere to $3500 to $5000 a semester for housing plus a mandatory $1000 meal plan is way outside the fiscal range of most. It is usually cheaper to rent an apartment with one or more roommates.
“Last year, I was sharing a house with my brother and a roommate, and we were only paying $400 a month for living,” senior Kenny Ha said. “I wasn’t paying a lot of money for food because I always bought groceries, and we lived only seven minutes from campus.”
The truth is that most students want to live as close to school as possible, but they can’t keep up with the fees. With the local housing options to choose from, and with the options continuing to expand, finding a home nearby is becoming a nonissue.
The real cost of saving money from commuting is the convenience that the students give up.
Parking is dreadful, and has remained an issue for years on campus. With limited parking space and thousands of students driving in daily, it’s no secret that students have to plan their day out just because of it.
Residential have the convenience of parking their car once on the weekend, and leaving it there until they need it again the next weekend. For commuters, it is a must that they wake up early and show up at least an hour earlier than their class time just to assure that they will make it.
Like almost every situation, this can be an advantage depending on how the student perceives it.
“When I was (living) at home, I tended to wake up early and make a more sacrifice to show up to class,” Taylor said. “Also I didn’t want to waste gas, so when I was at school I got more done at school before I go home and relax, but on campus I would try to take a break and relax but ended up falling asleep for hours.”
This is the most common theme and what separates the two students: their effort. Aside from living in dorms, a commuter can have a similar experience to the resident; they just have to work harder at it.
While a resident may bump into opportunities to get involved from constantly being around campus, a commuting student can be almost nearly involved by finding opportunities.
“There were plenty of students involved in (orientation) team who commuted the semesters I did it,” English literature senior Elysha Adams said. “I’ve never really been in an organization that was only people who lived on campus.”
Being involved is arguably the most important part to a college experience because you get to engage in different parts of campus and with different people.
Chambliss said that friends aren’t made in classrooms or dorms, but in high-contact organizations where people see each other at least twice a week. Also, it only takes two or three close friends a few great professors to make a fulfilling college experience.
A student can still do well in school, be involved, make lifetime friends and have a great college experience while commuting. Just like a resident, it depends on the efforts and desires of the student.
So, before you decide to live on or off campus, decide: what do you want your experience to be?
Are you willing to fund the costs of a traditional and fulfilling college experience that includes always running into your friends and being heavily involved with all the ease of access?
Do you want the fulfilling college experience of being heavily involved, with some added stress, without all the costs?
Are you going to school to simply finish up your degree, earn your masters or pick up a skill?
When it comes down to it, anyone with the time to join an organization and get involved has an opportunity to have a fulfilling college experience and make plenty of friends a long the way.
“I would, in general, like to have more going on that would encourage everybody, residents, commuters, to stick around in the evenings, to come to campus on the weekends,” Smith said. “We don’t have to have more residents students to have culture. We can have culture with the student body that we have, and just provide more reasons for them to be involved.”