Varied Student Transit Needs Call for Innovative Solutions
Community colleges can work in a variety of ways to ease the financial burden transportation can cause.
Transportation costs can impose a real barrier on students making it to class consistently. While community colleges in locations with public transportation can work to offer subsidized or free transit for their students and staff, this isn’t necessarily an option for colleges in small towns or rural and remote locations. However, some colleges have found ways to support the transportation needs of their students to travel from home to campus.
Some colleges and local transit authorities have developed a variety of approaches to facilitate reliable, convenient transportation for students. The Associated Students of Umpqua Community College (ASUCC) operates a program that offers gas vouchers to eligible students who cannot afford to buy gas before financial aid is disbursed at the beginning of the term. This helps students make ends meet before federal and state support arrives in the first few weeks of the semester.
Even when colleges don’t have institutional programs to save students on transportation costs, they can make local resources - ranging from nonprofits that offer help with oil changes to the local transportation authority - known to students on their website, as Ozarks Technical Community College does. Metropolitan Community College in Nebraska offers students information on the locally-run MetrO! Rideshare program, which now offers carpools to locations on campus via the MCC Rideshare Carpool. While the rideshare program isn’t affiliated with the college at all, the information on MCC’s website may help students connect to others with similar transportation needs, offering a way to save on costs and reduce environmental impact to boot.
In addition to everyday transportation expenses, sudden expenses like car repairs can stop students in their tracks if they have no other way to get to class. Many colleges have developed emergency funds that offer support so students can defray or completely cover the cost of repairing their vehicle, helping them get back to class as soon as possible. These emergency funds are developed in various ways, ranging from endowments to a pool of smaller donations. Different strategies may work for different colleges, but the results - helping students meet unexpected needs to stay on track - can be the same.
When we talk about student aid, we often discuss grants and scholarships that cover tuition, books, and fees. Food and housing costs also rightly factor into many discussions of college costs. However, transportation is also a major expense for our students. We encourage colleges to develop creative, innovative ways to help students get where they need to go so they can succeed. Here are a few questions that institutional leaders can ask about student transportation needs and local resources:
What kinds of transit (public transportation, carpools, bikes, shuttles) are available to your students, and which are most commonly used? Why are some modes of transit more popular than others? Would more students take the bus if they had a pass? What would make carpooling more convenient for students? Would a campus shuttle to a convenient location make the commute more reliable for many students?
Are there local business partners who might be interested in supporting students getting to class or sponsoring a transit program? Support might include resources for purchasing gas, discounted or free car maintenance, sponsoring student public transit passes, “adopting” student parking spaces/passes to cover fees, or other ways to ease the cost burden on students.
Which community organizations provide help with transit needs, and how can information about these resources be communicated to students who stand to benefit? If there are already organizations in your community that offer assistance with recurring or emergency transportation needs, how can students access these benefits?
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