Community college students need to spend a considerable amount of money to obtain a degree or certificate. While tuition in our sector is lower than others, several other expenses facing students - including housing, food, and transportation – quickly add up. Although paying for transportation might not sound like a major barrier, the average full-time community college student spends $1,760 per year on transportation, which is nearly half of national average tuition for such a student.
“On the Verge: Costs and Tradeoffs Facing Community College Students,” a 2016 report published by The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) surveyed students concerning their transportation situation. According to one student surveyed in the report, “Knowing I had been awarded the Cal Grant was great, but not getting it on time to pay for my books and materials was really inconvenient. I also need that Cal Grant to pay for transportation – there were many times I couldn’t attend class because I didn’t have money for the bus.”
With the reality of student transportation needs in mind, community colleges could work with local officials to provide free or discounted transportation to students. Some cities are already taking the initiative to provide free or discounted transit to students, although the focus seems to be on high school students. In Washington, D.C., public school students under the age of 22 can ride the city bus for free on school days during select times. This is a great deal for high school students, but unfortunately excludes students at the University of the District of Columbia Community College who may be older or may be racking up high transportation costs to juggle trips to work, class, and other obligations. Local government initiatives to help students get to work and class empowers students.
In addition to municipal initiatives to offer transportation support to students, some colleges are getting the job done themselves. Starting in 2015, St. Louis Community College students who paid fees for at least one credit hour worth of classes became eligible for the U-Pass, which allows them unlimited rides on St. Louis public transportation. Aside from the enrollment requirement, students only need to provide a valid ID to receive the pass made available on the first day of the semester. Students at the University of Pittsburgh can use their student IDs to ride any Port Authority or Allegheny County bus for free, although this benefit is not extended to community college students. Large cities aren’t the only ones working to provide transportation support to students. In Arkansas, Ozark Regional Transit and the NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) have created a partnership that established on-campus bus stops and allows any student or faculty with a NWACC ID to ride for free.
Providing transportation assistance to students isn’t a new or revolutionary idea. Colleges and local governments are already taking initiative and ensuring their students have one less expense on their minds distracting from school work. Transportation may not be the biggest expense our students face, but an extra $1,760 a year in their pockets can make a world of difference.