ERIC Identifier: ED319297
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Author: Jacoby, Barbara
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Higher Education Washington DC.| George Washington Univ. Washington
The Student as Commuter: Developing a Comprehensive
Institutional Response. ERIC Digest.
Defined as all students who do not live in institution-owned housing,
commuter students are an extraordinarily diverse population. Their numbers
include full-time students of traditional age who live with their parents,
part-time students who live in rental housing near the campus, and adults who
have careers and children of their own. The population of commuter students will
continue to become more diverse as the number of part-time, adult, and minority
students enrolled in higher education increases.
Despite the differences in their backgrounds and educational goals, commuter
students share a common core of needs and concerns: issues related to
transportation that limit the time they spend on campus, multiple life roles,
the importance of integrating their support systems into the collegiate world,
and developing a sense of belonging on the campus. Whether they attend a
predominantly residential institution or one attended only by commuters, the
fact that they commute to college profoundly affects the nature of their
educational experience. The term student-as-commuter is used to highlight the
essential character of the relationship of the commuter student with the
institution of higher education.
WHAT HAS IMPEDED THE RESPONSE OF COLLEGES AND
The dominance of the residential tradition of higher education
continues to shape the development of policies and practices, even at
predominantly commuter institutions. Most administrators and faculty members
earned their degrees at traditional residential institutions and tend to impose
the values and goals of their own experiences on other educational environments.
Administrators often inadvertently believe that commuter students can be served
by the substitution of parking lots for residence halls, while maintaining
essentially the same curricular and programmatic formats. The focus of much of
the preparation, training, and professional work of student personnel
practitioners has been on resident students. Residence halls have historically
been the site of more student development activity than any other student
service. Similarly, the theories and models of student development have been
built largely on work with traditional, residential college students.
The research on commuter students is limited in quantity and breadth. Much of
it is based on the premise that the residential experience is the normative
college experience and that commuters experiences are somehow less legitimate or
less worthy of attention. The findings of the research on commuter students are
generally inconsistent and inconclusive.
HOW CAN ADMINISTRATORS AND FACULTY DEVELOP A FULLER UNDERSTANDING?
A variety of frameworks, theories, and models are useful
in understanding the complex nature of the relationship between the
student-as-commuter and higher education. The diversity of commuter students and
their educational goals requires the use of multiple approaches: human
development theories (psychosocial, cognitive, and person-environment), design
of the campus ecology/ecosystem, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, mattering,
involvement/talent development/integration, transition theory, and family
systems. Educators should use the best theoretical frameworks available in the
development of institutional policies and practices.
HOW CAN AN INSTITUTION ASSESS HOW WELL IT SERVES ITS COMMUTER STUDENTS?
To evaluate whether commuter students educational goals and
needs are being met, each institution must acquire information about its
students; its programs, facilities, services, operating assumptions, general
climate, and environment; and the nature of students interactions with the
institution. The key variables related to the experience of the
student-as-commuter are age, sex, ethnic background, socioeconomic status,
finances, employment, family status, living arrangements, distance from campus,
modes of transportation, educational aspirations, and academic abilities.
Institutional self-appraisal of the extent to which all students benefit
equitably from the institutions offerings should include examination of several
aspects from the perspective of the student-as-commuter: mission, image,
publications; recruitment, admissions, articulation; funding and fee equity;
orientation and transition programs; curriculum and classroom; educational and
career planning, academic advising, counseling; faculty/staff development and
rewards; sense of community, belonging, recognition; financial aid, on-campus
work, experiential learning; cocurricular activities and programs; outreach to
significant individuals; community relations; services and facilities; and
information and communication.
Once a profile of the student population has been developed and various
aspects of the institution have been studied from the perspective of the
student-as-commuter, the nature of students interactions with the institution
can be analyzed: retention, satisfaction with the educational experience,
achievement of educational goals, use of services and facilities, and
participation in various aspects of campus life.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A COMPREHENSIVE INSTITUTIONAL
Although it is impossible to provide a recipe or blueprint for
change, it is possible to identify some principal elements of a comprehensive
1. The institution should modify its mission statement, if
necessary, to express a clear commitment to the quality of the
educational experience of all its students and should have
that change endorsed by its governing board.
2. The president, vice presidents, deans, and all other top
administrators should frequently and consistently articulate
the institutions commitment to the student-as-commuter when
dealing with faculty, staff, students, the governing board,
alumni, community members, and others.
3. The institution should regularly collect comprehensive data
about its students and their experiences with the institution.
4. Regular evaluation processes should be put in place to assess
whether the institutions programs, services, facilities, and
resources address the needs of all students equitably.
5. Steps should be taken to identify and rectify stereotypes or
inaccurate assumptions held by members of the campus community
about commuter students and to ensure that commuter students
are treated as full members of the campus community.
6. Long- and short-range administrative decisions regarding
resources, policies, and practices should consistently include
the perspective of the student-as-commuter.
7. In recognition that students experiences in one segment of
the institution profoundly affect their experiences in other
segments and their perceptions of their educational experience
as a whole, quality practices should be consistent throughout
8. The classroom experience and interactions with faculty should
be recognized as playing the major roles in determining the
overall quality of commuter students education.
9. Curricular and cocurricular offerings should complement one
another, and considerable energy should be directed to ensure
that students understand the interrelationship of
the curriculum and the cocurriculum.
10. Faculty and staff at all levels should be encouraged to learn
more about the theoretical frameworks and models that lead to
a fuller understanding of the student-as-commuter.
11. Top leadership should actively encourage the various campus
units to work together to implement change on behalf of the
12. Technology should be used to the fullest extent possible to
improve the institutions ability to communicate with its
students and to streamline its administrative processes.
13. Executive officers and members of the governing board should
actively work toward ensuring that commuter students and
commuter institutions are treated fairly in federal, state,
and local decision making (e.g., student financial aid,
institutional funding formulas).
Chickering, Arthur W., and Associates.
1980. THE MODERN AMERICAN COLLEGE. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cross, K. Patricia. 1981. ADULTS AS LEARNERS. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Jacoby, Barbara, and Burnett, Dana. Summer 1986. NASPA Journal, special issue
on commuter students. 24: 1.
Pascarella, Ernest T. Spring 1984. "Reassuring the Effects of Living
On-Campus Versus Commuting to College: A Casual Modeling Approach." REVIEW OF
HIGHER EDUCATION 7: 247-60.
Schlossberg, Nancy K.; Lynch, Ann Q.; and Chickering, Arthur W. 1989.
IMPROVING HIGHER EDUCATION ENVIRONMENTS FOR ADULTS. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Stewart, Sylvia S. ed. 1983. "Commuter Students: Enhancing Their Educational
Experiences." NEW DIRECTIONS FOR STUDENT SERVICES No. 24. San Francisco:
This ERIC digest is based on a new full-length report in the ASHE-ERIC Higher
Education Report series, prepared by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education
in cooperation with the Association for the Study of Higher Education, and
published by the School of Education at the George Washington University.