Commuter lifestyle gives students a more realistic life experience

David Delgado// The Daily Cougar

Traditionally, residence halls and on-campus apartments have been a part of the ideal college lifestyle, but as the quality of distance education improves and families become more fiscally savvy, commuter culture continues to transition from alternative to standard.

According to the National Survey for Student Engagement, a commuter is defined as a college student who does not live in a residence hall or Greek house. For UH students, commuting can mean that you live around the corner or in a far-away suburb.

Reasons persuading students to live off-campus are more numerous than the options, but financial insecurity is likely the most common factor of why students choose the commuter lifestyle. The decision to live off-campus, either with nosey parents or shady roommates, is a decision to save money.

A 2012 Sallie Mae study showed that, nationally, more than half of college students opt to stay with their parents or other relatives.

“Living with my parents, I didn’t have to worry about buying groceries or paying rent,” said alumna Monique Andy. “I could focus on buying books, and my school work.”

Many students make the decision to commute out of necessity rather than personal preference.

Living on campus means that early morning lectures are only steps away from your bed, eliminating the need for long drives through bumper-to-bumper traffic. When you literally eat, sleep and breathe at school, taking on a heavy course load and a resume teeming with activities is more feasible.

The commuter population is quickly growing, but the diversity and intricacy of commuter lifestyles make it difficult to come to conclusions about this community.

Every year following the release of NSSE’s data, outside institutions submit essays interpreting the information collected. The most popular myths they have been trying to solve are regarding student commuters.

B. Lauren Young, a research analyst at the University at Buffalo, evaluates commuter students in comparison to their resident counterparts in her essay, “Commuter and Resident Students: Attitudes, Expectations and Their Influences on Integration and Persistence.”

“Commuters are more likely to have multiple life roles and responsibilities than residents. They more frequently have responsibilities as spouses, parents and employees as well as students,” Young said.

Residents are immersed in the school, in addition to their own interests and goals. It can be argued that the college years are a time for self-discovery and building a foundation for your future career, but it is also an important time for young people to mature and transition into adulthood.

Although there is a large concern that students living with their parents would shelter them from the challenges of the “real world,” campus life is a controlled environment. All the conveniences are borderline crippling.

Commuters can’t request a new roommate because their partner’s snoring is unbearable at times, nor sneak off to the library late at night because they have a report due in the morning and there’s a newborn baby crying next door.

Commuters either quickly learn how to balance a demanding work life with a complicated home life or they crash and burn, but it’s short-sighted to conclude that the daily challenges facing commuters automatically wears down their drive to succeed in college.

“Commuters tend to have more diverse support systems than residents and rely to a greater extent on spouses, relatives, friends, employers and other off-campus (relations) to negotiate the demands of a college education,” Young said.

The biggest myth about commuters is that they are less motivated to graduate.

Many UH students can testify that hitting the road at the crack of dawn to beat traffic, spending hours searching for a parking spot, choosing to pay tuition instead of living expenses and fitting your distant work life around school is a test of endurance.

However, thousands of UH students face these challenges regularly and overcome commuter pains every day because they are persistent in their goal of receiving an education.

Naturally, universities and other post-secondary institutions prefer that students live in environments that support academic growth and success, but throughout the years, many schools have realized that their roles in society are evolving and have embraced the commuter lifestyle and culture.

Although commuting can be vigorous in comparison to residential life, the desire that most commuters carry to further their education establishes the emotional stamina needed to survive greater life challenges. But developing an unbreakable persistence is not the only benefit.

Students who live at home benefit from the support of a nurturing family life.

“I love my family, and I’m glad that I’m not missing out on them, especially since my younger brother will be graduating from high school next year,” said hotel and restaurant management sophomore Jessica Gonzalez.

Opinion columnist Ciara Rouege is an advertising junior and may be reached at [email protected].

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