Are College Campuses Becoming Commuter Campuses? - Nancy McKenna ––

Are College Campuses Becoming Commuter Campuses?

When you take your child to college, you expect to see him or her on holidays and the occasional weekend, but for the most part, you think your kid will live at school.

That used to be the norm, but times are changing.

Now, more and more colleges are turning into commuter campuses or suitcase schools. Students stay on campus during the week, but as soon as their last class is over on Friday, they head home. Then, they don’t come back until Sunday night, just in time to get some rest before class the next morning.

This might not sound like a big deal, but it can lead to some major issues for parents and students.

The Cost of the Commute

When your child attends college, you can expect to pay quite a bit for room and board. The average cost is  about $10,440 for public colleges. It’s even worse if you send your child to a private school. Then, you can expect to pay $11,890 just for room and board. That’s a ton of money to just house and feed your son or daughter.  

If your child comes home every weekend, you will end up spending even more on top of that. Commuting back and forth isn’t cheap. You’ll have to pay for gas or plane and train tickets. You’ll also have to feed your child and pay for entertainment. Suddenly, instead of just paying for room and board for one place, you’ll be paying for two places. That can make college almost unaffordable.

The College Experience

You want your child to have the best college experience possible. You want him or her to make friends, join organizations, and become involved. Most of all, you want your child to create memories that will last for a lifetime.

That’s almost impossible to do if your child lives on a commuter campus.

Instead of enjoying the college experience, your child will spend his or her days staring at the calendar, waiting to go home.

Even if your child chooses to stay on campus during the weekends, the experience will be a bust since the campus will clear out.

That means your child won’t be able to make those lifelong friendships.

He or she won’t be exposed to new people and ideas and won’t be challenged in ways that allow for growth.

Instead, it will just be like high school all over again, and your child will likely be disappointed. That disappointment can even impact your child’s grades. If he or she isn’t engaged in campus life, it might be difficult to buckle down and make good grades.

How to Determine if a College Is a Suitcase School

Many students end up surprised to learn they have enrolled in a suitcase school. They might not have realized that the school was full of metro or international students who go home often, and they are left disappointed.

Fortunately, you can conduct a little research to find out if your child’s school of choice is a commuter school.

Look at the On-Campus Activities

If the school doesn’t have anything going on during the weekend, students are more likely to leave. They want to have a good time, after all, and if there is nothing to do, many will find fun elsewhere.

Peterson’s is a great resource for looking at on-campus activities. Type in the name of the school and look at the activities listed.

Also, go to the school’s website and see what type of activities and events it offers during the weekends. The more the better. Simply having movies, homecoming festivities, and picnics can keep students engaged throughout the year. That means students will be more likely to stay on campus, so they can have some fun.

Consider the Location

Colleges that are located in huge metro areas often attract students from that city. While it’s not always the case, oftentimes, those students will go home during the weekends.

However, if the college is far from the city, the commute will likely be much greater. It won’t be as easy for students to go home on the weekends, so many will stay on campus.

Find Out How Many Part-Time Students the School Has

Part-time students are much more likely to leave on the weekends. Actually, they might even leave midway through the week. Talk to a representative to find out how many full- and part-time students the school has. If the number of part-time students is low, it’s much less likely to be a commuter college. However, if it’s high, you might want to look elsewhere.

Visit the School

The best way to find out if a school is a commuter college is to pay it a visit. If possible, stay for a few days. Go down on a Thursday, so you can see what life is like during the week. Then, pay special attention on Friday. Do students start emptying out? Does the parking lot seem empty?

Saturday will provide the best indication of campus life. If it seems like a ghost town on Saturday, it’s likely not a good choice.

When you visit the school, don’t be afraid to question students. Ask them what campus life is like on the weekend. Do they stick around? What about their friends? Do they have enough to do?

Interviewing the students will help you see the whole picture. That will make it much easier to make a decision about the college.

Say No to Suitcase Schools

If you want to save money and ensure your child has the best college experience possible, you have to say no to commuter colleges. Yes, it will take a little bit of research to find out if the school is a commuter school, but it will be well worth the effort.

Your child will have a much better college experience, and you will save some money in the process. That’s a win for everyone involved.    I have a friend, now 35,  who said she went home almost every weekend.  Years later, she regretted this.  She knew she didn't let herself have the college experience she could have had.

I went to college in California - from Maryland.  Do you know when I went home?  Christmas and summertime.  That was it!  I didn't expect anything different.

A man I work with's daughter went to college in California.  They live in New Jersey.  He flew her home almost every other weekend!  Insane!  "Oh, no one is around on the weekend", she would say.  Boo hoo, I have no one to play with! I asked why she didn't get a job off campus?  That's a great way to meet people.   And make money.  But no.   

Editorial comment- if we never have our kids "feel" things they will never understand that they can solve their own problems.   Which, as I understand it, is part of growing up?


About the Author Nancy McKenna

I'm a personal finance geek. A real estate investor. An accountant, a single mother. And I'm going to get my kids through college without student debt! Will you?

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