You are on page 1of 16

Running Head: LOST VOICE

Commuter Students: Lost Voice in a Large Crowd


Tyler Bauer
University at Buffalo

Commuter Students: Lost Voice in a Large Crowd

LOST VOICE

Many students attend higher education institutions. With this increase of students, the
increase of different nationalities, backgrounds and cultures are prominent on almost all
campuses in higher education. Because of this increase of students, the student affairs
professional is bombarded with diverse students. A majority of students in higher education
institutions are commuter students (Jacoby, 2000). Since commuter students are a majority of
students on college campuses, the student affairs professional creates programs that not only
focus on residential students but commuter students as well. Unfortunately, not many commuter
students feel as connected on their respective college campuses as compared to residential
students (Alfano & Eduljee, 2013). In this paper, first I will give a brief literature review of
commuter students. The second part of the paper will address how functional areas on college
campuses can address the issues commuter students have on college campuses.
Commuter Students
Commuter students are different from residential students. The definition of a commuter
student is a general term but the most widely excepted definition is that commuter students are
students that do not live in institutional owned housing (Jacoby, 1989). This broad definition
encompasses many students. To better understand this broad group a students, the group is split
into three variables: dependant or independent, traditional or nontraditional, and full-time or parttime (Jacoby, 1989). Dependant commuter students are students that live with parents, relatives
or spouses. Independent commuter students are students that live on their own. Traditional
commuter students are students that are in between the ages of 18-25 that attend the institution
while nontraditional commuter students are students that are older than 25 years of age. Typically
these are students who have not immediately went to college after graduating high school due to
work, family or other reasons. Full-time commuter students are students that attend college

LOST VOICE

classes full-time. The majority of commuter students are part-time college students (Jacoby,
2000). The diversity within commuter students is only growing with time (Stevens, 2000). This
is an issue for student affairs professionals to create programs for this broad group of students. In
this literature review I will discuss some issues that commuter students face. First I will discuss
are location and transportation issues. The second issues I will discuss are workload and time.
The last issue I will discuss is awareness.
Every student that enters higher education faces some type of issue when it comes to the
adjustment or academic workload. College is different from high school which causes discomfort
in students on higher education campuses. Student affairs professionals challenge and support the
students that attend the institution. Although commuters and residential students face similar
issues, the commuter faces issues that typically residential students do not come across
(Peterson, 1975).
Location and Transportation
Universities and colleges marvel on the amenities that are located on their campuses but
the location of these amenities makes them useful for certain group of students. Most of the
amenities located on college campus such as classrooms, dining halls, libraries and computer
laboratories are located near the resident halls on campus (Stevens, 2000). Some of the building
hours, especially in urban settings, have certain time frames with which they can be utilized, thus
leaving commuter students on campus for an extended period of time (Clark, 2006). Larger
institutions have bus schedules and other means of transportation that commuters use to get to
and from campus.
Commuter students arrive on campus using various types of transportation such as using
automobiles, trains or buses. Because some of these means of transportation are public, the

LOST VOICE

reliance on this transportation can be a factor that influences commuter students (Clark, 2006).
Commuter students have to make sure to plan around their commuting schedule (Rubin, 2000). If
one of the means of transportation is late, the commuter student might not be able to attend
classes. Weather can have many factors on not only public transportation but also on the
transportation of students using automobiles.
One of the issues with transportation is parking when the student arrives on campus. At
large public universities, parking can be difficult during the peak hours. Typically, the parking
lots for commuter students are in locations that are distant from the center of campus and
resident halls (Stevens, 2000). Although residential students have similar parking situations, the
resident halls are in locations where transportation to and from the resident hall is easier than it is
for commuter students. The location and transportation of amenities on campus is an issue for
commuter students.
Workload and Time
The commuter student has a significant educational disadvantage than residential students
(Peterson, 1975). Although this can account for several things, commuter students work more
than resident students off campus (Dugan, Garland, Jacoby & Gasiorski, 2008). This can be in
part to the fact that students in resident halls are typically better off financially and educationally
than commuter students (Peterson, 1975). Commuter students might have to work to stay in
school. This causes commuter students to miss out on opportunities such as internships and
research because the student is focused on maintaining a job to make money. Due to the
increased workload, this can contribute to commuter students facing higher levels of stress than
residential students (Alfano & Eduljee, 2013). Because of the tighter time constraints faced on

LOST VOICE

commuter students to work off campus, students spend less time on campus and therefore do not
become as involved on campus as residential students (Dugan et al., 2008; Rubin, 2000).
For the commuter student, getting involved on campus is more difficult than residential
students (Jacoby, 2000). The lack of time spent on campus can be complemented with the degree
of involvement on campus. When students become involved on campus the student develops a
sense of belonging on the campus. Students that develop a sense of belonging to an institution
feel more connected to the institution and therefore likely to become more involved (Jacoby,
1989). Commuter students that become involved make greater gains in academics and leadership
skills than residential students (Peterson, 1975). Loneliness on a college campus is one of the
common issues that commuter students raise (Jacoby, 1989; Rubin, 2000). Due to the majority of
commuter students not becoming involved in campus activities, commuter students try to meet
classmates. Involvement inside the classroom is valuable experience for the commuter student
but commuter students feel it is hard to keep classroom based friends every semester (Clark,
2006). By becoming involved on campus, the commuter can squander some of these feelings of
loneliness experienced on campus. With the involvement, commuter students can gain more
leadership skills (Dugan et al., 2008).
Awareness
Residential students are on campus more than commuter students. Walking through a
Student Union on a college campus, students interact and learn from programs that take place on
campus. As mentioned before, commuter students have a significant educational disadvantage
than residential students (Peterson, 1975). Campuses have diversity offices that develop
programs to engage students in sociocultural conversations. Commuters do not engage in these
sociocultural conversations which lead to less leadership skills after graduating institutions

LOST VOICE

(Dugan et al., 2008). Diversity is critical skill that students and the people in general should learn
and continue to improve every day.
Another skill that is expressed on college campuses throughout the United States are
skills in alcohol and drug awareness. With awareness weeks on alcohol and drugs, educating
students on campus about the effects of alcohol and other drugs could lead to prevention or lower
risk of abuse. Commuter students are not immune from the risk of alcohol and drugs. Higher
education and drinking have been correlated ever since the creation of higher education
institutions during the medieval times (Thelin, 2004). A common myth between residential and
commuter students is the belief that commuter students do not consume alcohol. Alcohol
consumption is a problem for commuters as well as for residential students (Prince & Bernard,
1998). Since commuter students drink less than residential students, the assumptions that
commuter students do not consume alcohol is supported (Sessa, 2005). Dependent commuter
students tend to drink less than independent commuter students (Sessa, 2005) because dependent
commuter students have to go home to relatives or siblings. Another comparable experience
related to alcohol is that residential students and commuter students have male students
consuming alcohol more than female students (Prince & Bernard, 2005).
With the consumption of alcohol equal in both residential and commuter students, alcohol
leads to problems that are potentially harmful. High frequency drinkers are more likely to have
multiple sex partners than low frequency drinkers (Prince & Bernard, 1998). With multiple sex
partners comes the risk of sexually transmitted diseases that could be life threatening. With
programs on campus bringing awareness to possible sexually transmitted diseases, students have
the ability to learn about safe sex practices and health (Prince & Bernard, 1998). The attendance
of commuter students at these events is low. Perhaps, commuters also do not learn about these

LOST VOICE

events due to the campus community gearing marketing strategies for the events towards
residential students, thus commuters will become involved if better marketing plans are
developed (Newbold, Metha & Forbus, 2011).
Academics
The ability to learn in and outside the classroom is a fundamental attribute of a college
setting. Being able to apply material learned inside a college benefits the student in many ways.
Students who interact with faculty are more likely to do well in courses and gain more leadership
experience. Commuter students become better leaders by having more mentorship on campus
(Dugan et al. 2008). A common theme that commuter students have about academic programs is
the disconnect between academics and work life (Rubin, 2000). By interacting with faculty on
campus the student is more inclined to not have the disconnect that is found between the two.
Commuter students greatly benefit from experiential learning. This gives commuter students the
opportunities to build better relationships with other students on campus (Rubin, 2000).
Academic courses can be taken on any day of the week. Commuter students are more
likely to register for classes that are all on the same day (Newbold, Metha & Forbus, 2011). This
can be for many reasons but the most common reason for a commuter student to register for
classes all on one day is because of work (Newbold, Metha & Forbus, 2011). Students who are
working full time off campus in a traditional job will be taking classes that are evening or at
night. Commuter students tend to register all their academic classes on one day with no breaks
(Stevens, 2000). Breaks in schedules are often times when college students meet in the Student
Union and socialize. This provides a social outlet that can aid in stress. The lower levels of
socializing commuter students that do not partake on college campuses correlates with the higher
level of stress commuters have (Alfano & Eduljee, 2013). By commuter students only engaging

LOST VOICE

in classes on one day and not staying on campus, this restricts the time that the commuter has to
become involved on the campus.
As mentioned before commuter students are the majority on college campuses (Jacoby,
1989). When a large group of students are grouped together, not all students are the same; this is
similar to commuter students (Newbold, Metha & Forbes, 2011). A student affairs professional as
well as administrators should look to include commuter students in all aspects of the planning
and integration of programs and amenities (Stevens, 2000). When commuter students feel
unnoticed on campus, the students express a sense of a second-class student. The amenities
which are paid for in tuition are not utilized and therefore the student believes that it should not
be included in the bill (Newbold, Metha & Forbers, 2011). Commuter students face these issues
more than residential students on campuses (Peterson, 1975). Since the pattern only appears that
the population of commuter students will increase (Stevens, 2000), programs and services need
to be improved for commuter students on college campuses (Jacoby, 2000).
Interventions
Commuter students face many challenges when it comes to being successful on college
campuses. The job of the student affairs professional is to enhance student success and make it
more accessible. Programs and offices must work together to promote student learning and
development. This is the same for commuter students. Here I will present two functional areas
that could improve accessibility and involvement for commuter students. Two functional areas
that will be addressed are student activities and academic advising.
Student Activities
When looking at student activities, the majority of programs are focused more on the
residential student than on commuter students. Because of this, I would like to create a program

LOST VOICE

that is geared specifically to commuter students. I want to create of a space that commuter
students can go on campus. Commuter Lounges are not uncommon and definitely not original.
The commuter lounge that I will propose is staffed and programmed by employees directly for
commuter students. The space and location of the Lounge is important for the success of the
program.
The Lounge is in a location that is a high traffic area such as the Student Union. The
Lounge is a room with large open space that has various rooms leading out for individual study
rooms to help support academic and group studies. Knowledge from academics is an integral
part of student development (Council for the Advancement of Standards, 2011). Among those
study rooms will be two rooms, one for staff and another for a child-safe zone for commuter
students to play with their kids. The Lounge room will be inspected for all the latest codes and
violations for safety concerns such as fires. This would include the appropriate smoke alarms,
carbon monoxide alarms and sprinkler systems.
The amenities that are inside the Lounge stimulate a friendly environment to relax and
work. The objective would be to create a space where commuter students feel calm because
commuter students tend to be stressed from work and other commitments. In order to reach this
goal, every amenity needs to be well thought out and planned. The color on the walls, tile of the
floor and furniture add to the building of a calming space. Inside the main room with large space
will be lockers for commuter students to use. Typically, commuter students utilize lockers on
campus more than residential students. This will help commuter students not by allowing them to
not have to walk back and forth with books.
In order to enter the Lounge, a student must first sign in at the front desk. This is where
individuals can swipe school Identification Cards or sign in using a manual log in a book. The

LOST VOICE

10

students that are only allowed to enter are commuter students. The reasoning behind this is to
provide a space that only commuter students are able to utilize. Commuter students are allowed
to bring friends into the Lounge, just as long as they sign in appropriately. The object is to get
commuter students to interact with students similar to them. If students who are residents interact
with a commuter student, the commuter student can sign in the residential students as a guest.
The Lounge has several components. As mentioned before, a child-safe zone and study
areas will be in the small room settings. In the large group setting will be more recreational and
leisure activities. One of such activities will be a billiards table which students can rent from the
front desk. Another activity will be video game stations. This will allow students to play video
games together. Board games and card games will be available to rent as well. Students have the
opportunity to relax in between classes or before and after classes to release stress.
Although this is the setting of the Lounge, the space will also have various programs
taking place inside of it. These would be a mix of different types of programs with collaborations
across campus (CAS, 2011). For instance, the Diversity Center on campus can present on
multicultural issues and global competency. The leadership center can come in and present on
leadership techniques and how to develop leadership skills. The possibilities are endless in the
different collaborations across the campus on what to present on. Activities and presentations
dominate the lounge on a daily basis. A paper with the list of presentations for the day will be
place on the front desk for students to take as they enter. Activities can range from casino nights
to children games to academic study tips. The Lounge serves as a space for commuters to engage
and learn.
The front desk will be staffed by upper level commuter students. These students can
serves as mentors to the incoming commuter student entering the Lounge. The students who

LOST VOICE

11

work the front desk will meet weekly with the professional staff member who oversees the
Lounge and its programs. Professional staff members ensure the commuter students are
developing properly (CAS, 2011). The professional staff members that oversee the Lounge
should constantly seek the requests of commuter students to be applied to the program. They
should oversee the budget and staffing of the students working the front desk. The professional
staff member also chooses the programs that are created in the Lounge and ensures that the
programs follow the CAS Standards.
The use of assessment in the understanding of the effectiveness of programs ensures the
student affairs professional that programs are being utilized. For the Lounge, students register
electronically or manual. This data could be used to see what services are being used and by
what population. The occurrence of students multiple times using the Lounge could be an
indicator of involved students. The front desk workers could serve as peer mentors and oversee
the students to help them learn more about the resources possible at the institution.
Academic Advising
Academic advising can be a stressful job in itself. Students are relying on the student
affairs professional to assist in the completion of a degree. This task is not as simple as it seems
and takes a lot of time. Unfortunately, time is not readily available for commuter students than
residential students. Some commuter students travel over an hour to attend classes at certain
institutions. If a student had a question about registering for a class, the commuter student must
coordinate an appropriate time to come to campus to speak to the academic advisor. Academic
advisors, especially at large institutions, are busy with appointments with other students that the
time they have allotted is not accommodating to commuter students. Thus the commuter student

LOST VOICE

12

is stuck trying to work out a time where the student has the ability to come to campus. The time
that is chosen might not be available for the academic advisor.
The easiest solution would be to hire more advisors but the hiring of more advisors
comes various financial issues that the department faces. The allocation of space is a determining
facet as well. If no space is available to house another advisor, the department must look
elsewhere for more room. A solution, I propose, to academic advisors is a program that allows
advisors the opportunity to interact with students while the student is at home. Although this does
not alleviate the workload of the advisor, the ability for a commuter student to communicate to
their advisor from home or work would be beneficial.
Technology plays a huge factor in all of higher education in this generation. The advances
of technology have given students the opportunity to take classes from home using audio
lectures, online textbooks and recorded lectures. Academic advisors can utilize similar
technology to help commuter students while the student is at home or work (CAS, 2011). The
program would be a virtual discussion online between the advisor and the student utilizing a
webcam. Advisors would have the opportunity to speak to students face to face while being far
apart. The student and advisor both have the option of sharing the view of the computer screen as
well. For students that need help registering for classes, the advisor can point to the sections that
the student can find the answers. The webcam program would aid in the students ability to work
on their own.
Instead of the student finding time to commute two hours from traveling back and forth
to campus for an academic advising meeting, the student can stay at home and receive the
information necessary to complete their degree. The importance of this program could possibly
be implemented in other offices as well. Counseling services could use a webcam service to

LOST VOICE

13

speak to students. For commuter students, the convenience of counseling while at home would
allow the student to use the services more.
Conclusion
Commuter students face challenges that residential students do not face. One of the issues
commuter students face is the feeling of not being part of the campus community (Alfano &
Eduljee, 2013). With the creation of a Commuter Lounge, commuter students have a specific
location on campus. The addition of the Lounge would foster connections between commuter
students to make more social connections. This would alleviate the feeling of loneliness on
campus that commuters have (Jacoby, 1989; Rubin, 2000). The programs that are offered in the
Lounge can help commuters understand the effects of alcohol and other drugs. Another issue that
commuter students face is access (Stevens, 2000). The student that commutes from far distances
has a difficult experience in being able to travel back and forth to the campus. With the addition
of a webcam in academic advising appointments, commuter students would be more likely to
access the services that academic advisors provide.
Commuter students are the majority on college campuses, yet not a lot of programs are
accessible for them. When student affairs professionals evaluate programs and check attendance
rates, the professional should know about the various factors that influence a commuter student
to attend. A commuter students attendance pattern often reflects the multiple life roles the
student has with family or in the community (Jacoby, 1989). Student affairs professionals should
think about that when incorporate creating programs (Stevens, 2000). Commuters can help
implement various functions such as marketing, planning and integrating of events. Student
affairs professionals are called to improve commuter programming (Jacoby, 2000). Although the

LOST VOICE

14

integration of commuter students into all programming is difficult, student affairs professionals
will always find a way to improve.

LOST VOICE

15
References

Alfano, H. J., & Eduljee, N. B. (2013). Differences in Work, Levels of Involvement, and
Academic Performance between Residential and Commuter Students. College Student
Journal, 47(2), 334-342.
Clark, M. R. (2006). Succeeding in the city: Challenges and best practices on urban commuter
campuses. About Campus, 11(3), 2-8.
Council for the Advancement of Standards. (2011). General standards. Retrieved from
http://www.cas.edu.
Dugan, J. P., Garland, J. L., Jacoby, B., & Gasiorski, A. (2008). Understanding Commuter
Student Self-Efficacy for Leadership: A Within-Group Analysis. NASPA Journal, 45(2),
282-310.
Jacoby, B. (1989). The Student as Commuter: Developing a Comprehensive Institutional
Response. ASHE-ERIC Report No. 7. Publications Department, ASHE-ERIC Higher
Education Reports, The George Washington University
Jacoby, B. (2000). Why involve commuter students in learning?. New Directions for Higher
Education, 2000(109), 3-12.
Lonn, S., Teasley, S. D., & Krumm, A. E. (2011). Who Needs to Do What Where?: Using
Learning Management Systems on Residential vs. Commuter Campuses. Computers &
Education, 56(3), 642-649.
Newbold, J. J., Mehta, S. S., & Forbus, P. (2011). Commuter Students: Involvement and
Identification with an Institution of Higher Education. Academy Of Educational
Leadership Journal, 15(2), 141-153.

LOST VOICE

16

Peterson, N. A. (1975). Commuting Student Lacks Advantages of Dorm Resident. Comment, 23,
1-12.
Prince, A., & Bernard, A. L. (1998). Sexual behaviors and safer sex practices of college students
on a commuter campus. Journal of American College Health, 47(1), 11-21.
Rubin, S. (2000). Developing community through experiential education. New Directions for
Higher Education, 2000(109), 43-50.
Sessa, F. M. (2005). The influence of perceived parenting on substance use during the transition
to college: A comparison of male residential and commuter students. Journal of College
Student Development, 46(1), 62-74.
Stevens, R. A. (2000). Welcoming Commuter Students into LivingLearning Programs. New
Directions for Higher Education, 2000(109), 71-79.
Thelin, J. R. (2004). A history of American higher education (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: John
Hopkins University Press.