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Commuters battle college life

By Sydni Fife

“I’ve gone here for three years,” Katelynn Farley, a junior at Huntington University, said, “and some people have no idea I’m even a student here.”

Farley commutes 15 minutes to school every day from Markle, Ind. She finds herself and other students like her getting forgotten by those on campus. Unlike residential students, commuters do not have frequent access to other students and staff, which can make creating relationships a real challenge.

Farley is not the only commuter who feels invisible to her peers. The number of commuting students on the HU campus and on campuses in the surrounding areas continues to grow each year. There are 287 commuters currently attending Huntington University. Who are these students, and what nontraditional hurdles must they jump to make it to graduation day?

Like all incoming students at HU, Farley attended orientation weekend. The event’s purpose is to help new students navigate the campus and to make the transition from high school to college seem less daunting. Students are split into different “Alpha Groups,” which made Farley feel left out.

LOUNGING AROUND: Commuter Katelynn Farley took time in between classes to relax and do homework in the second floor lounge of the science hall, which is frequently used by other commuter students. (Photo by Sydni Fife)

“My freshman year,” Farley said, “when I was in my Alpha Group, I was the only commuter.”

Farley felt that this put her at a disadvantage because the student and staff mentors focused on providing information most helpful to the residential students. She wasn’t given any resources for commuting students and had to learn the needed information over time.

Commuting freshman Sarah Witta had an unfortunate incident while on her way to class one day. She wasn’t sure if she would make it to class on time, so she sped up enough to catch the attention of a Huntington police officer. Witta explained to her professor that she got pulled over, which was why she showed up to class late. The professor said, “Okay.” The class continued on like nothing had happened.

One main reason why students choose this seemingly hectic lifestyle is money. For sophomore Ellie Lawson, this was the determining factor for her to move back home after spending a year on campus.

Full-time annual tuition at Huntington University is $25,312. The total annual room and board charge is $8,668. By living off campus, a commuter is saving a large amount of money each year.

“I live so close to campus that I just figured, ‘Why would I waste 9,000 dollars to live on campus?'” Lawson said. “It’s just more practical for me.”

Money is a common concern of almost all college students. But meeting chapel requirements is a concern of students attending Christian universities. Huntington University requires undergraduate students to accumulate thirty chapel credits a semester.

Commuters are not exempt from this requirement, which poses another challenge to them. Because of driving time, classes and outside commitments like jobs, commuting students are unable to attend every event that offers chapel credit.

Witta has found meeting this chapel requirement to be a struggle. She lives at home, attends school full-time and holds a part-time job. Most of the chapel events conflict with her busy schedule. Witta said she frequently attends the Tuesday and Thursday core chapels because they are the most convenient for her.

STICKING OUT: Sarah Witta poses by her car parked in front of the Merillat Centre for the Arts after chapel to show off the commuter sticker on the back window (Photo provided by Katelynn Farley)

Despite the large number of commuting students on Huntington’s campus, there is not a staff member designated to commuters to assist them. However, people like Kris Chafin have stepped up to meet the needs of these students. As the director of the Academic Center for Excellence, which offers tutoring, writing and disability assistance, Chafin already has a full workload.

On top of her normal duties, she is also a part of the effort to accommodate and inform commuters. Chafin said that the staff involved in this effort want to hear from commuter students and help make their college experience more enjoyable.

The frustrations of being a commuter are not exclusive to the HU campus. Other colleges and universities have found that their students face similar obstacles.

Indiana Tech has 950 commuter students, Ball State University has 274 and Grace College has 300.

In email interviews with Bethany Ballard, associate director of student involvement at Indiana Tech, Janoah Williams, assistant director of office of retention and graduation at Ball State University, and Lucas Lengacher, assistant resident director at Grace College, each brought up campus inclusion, time management and communication as the main issues the commuters face at their institutions.

“Commuter students most likely have a job off campus and have to be diligent about scheduling classes, study time, and extracurricular activities,” Williams said.

Bethany Ballard of Indiana Tech believes that commuters feel like “outsiders” when compared to residential students who “experience more community and develop deeper relationships with other residential students.”

Being a commuter is a struggle for many reasons. Witta said that the issue of attending chapel has not made her consider moving onto campus, but it has made her think about transferring to another university.

Farley refuses to take certain roads on her way to school during the winter because of how the university is plowed. She witnessed an car accident take place her sophomore year on the hill outside the MCA due to ice and snow-covered roads that had not been plowed yet.

Lawson suffered an injury before basketball season started, but was able to participate in the preseason workouts. She said the girls on her team would frequently ask for rides because they knew she had her car with her every day.

Brandon Marth is a commuter at Moravian College. In his article, “Challenges of the Commuting-Working Student, he described commuter students like this:

“We’re the students jogging across campus to get to class, eating bagged lunches in the library while furiously typing our papers, and hustling out of class because we have to get to work.”

These HU commuter students fit this definition well. Each of their stories may be a little different, but they struggle in the same ways. These students endure the chaos of everyday college life and then some.

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