Saving the environment and supporting students
Community colleges are usually commuter schools. For those that operate in urban areas there is often some public transportation that students can use to reach campus, though students may still choose to drive. However, many community colleges are in rural or suburban areas. This means that community college students are uniquely vulnerable to the high costs of gas, insurance, and expense of maintaining a vehicle.
For instance, if a student’s car breaks down they might not be able to finish out the semester, because the cost of repairs or a new vehicle are too great. A snowstorm that makes a rural road impassable might prevent students from attending class regularly. And, in low-income families, vehicles are often shared. Access to transportation can be a significant barrier to college completion for low-income rural community college students.
Apart from these difficulties, additional drivers burden the community and create a logistical challenge for the college, not to mention the environmental impact of single occupancy vehicles. The EPA reports that cars are still the second leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Taken together, all this suggests that colleges, community colleges in particular, should explore rideshare and carpooling initiatives.
Barriers to degree attainment in rural areas
In 2011 only 33% of individuals between 18-24 in rural areas were enrolled in college, compared to 48% of the same demographic in cities, and 43% in suburban areas (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2011). There are many reasons for the enrollment gap. Geographic dispersion, financial constraints, and both the rural culture and the rural job market all impact college aspirations.
Many rural community college students are first-generation and know few adults with degrees (Gnass, 2016). More than two-fifths live in poverty (Johnson et al. 2014). There also tends to be a high percentage of ethnic minority students in certain rural areas, who struggle with a unique set of transitional issues that make them more likely to forgo or drop out of college (Astin & Oseguera 2012). However, rural students from more homogenous communities can struggle to adapt to the diverse college environment (Maltzan 2006).
A persistent issue for rural community college students is lack of transportation or insufficient transportation infrastructure. A recent paper in the Academic Leadership Journal in Student Research highlighted this as a particularly notable non-academic barrier for rural community college students, who often drive quite far to reach the colleges they attend and travel over poorly maintained rural roads (Scott et. al. 2015).
A logistical and environmental nightmare
Students might struggle to access transportation, but commuter colleges also struggle to accommodate student vehicles. Community colleges in urban areas often have limited parking space, which quickly fills with single occupant vehicles. Colleges without land to build new parking lots, or the money to build expensive parking structures, have struggled to find solutions, particularly if public transportation isn’t entirely reliable.
On top of all of this, students who drive to campus increase traffic congestion significantly, causing larger problems for the surrounding community. It creates air pollution and causes additional wear to surrounding roads, and also makes the areas around campus less pedestrian and bike-friendly. As if this weren’t bad enough, the cost of a parking pass can be prohibitively expensive for low-income students.
In response to these problems, some colleges and universities have been starting ride share initiatives. Princeton reports that the Revise Your Ride initiative, which offers cash and other incentives for faculty and staff who carpool, bike or take the bus, has been a huge success. Over the course of the six months, participants saved almost 10,000 gallons of gas, reduced 200,000 pounds of carbon emissions, and avoided $30,000 of gas and maintenance costs.
Community colleges should start rideshare programs
Rideshare programs aren’t just for Ivy League schools. Community colleges have an opportunity to solve their students’ problems with accessing transportation, while also reducing the number of vehicles on campus every day, a big plus for commuter schools. Many colleges have already adopted such programs, like Estrella Mountain Community College in Arizona.
Estrella offers a preferred parking incentive for registered carpoolers, so that once they get on campus they can count on having one of the limited spaces available. The school will even match students with similar schedules who want to carpool. Employees at Estrella who carpool can also participate in a guaranteed ride home program. That way they don’t have to worry about transportation even if their driver has to leave unexpectedly.
Not every community college can run such a comprehensive ridesharing program, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help students find rides. Washtenaw Community College in Michigan didn’t create its own ridesharing program, but it does make smart use of existing area resources. The school gives interested students information about Michigan Rideshare, a program run by the local transportation authority. When students participate, everyone benefits.
Making college possible for everyone
Particularly in rural areas, attaining a college degree can seem like an impossible dream. To increase persistence and enrollment, community colleges have to understand the unique challenges these students are facing. Carpooling and rideshare programs can have cascading benefits for the schools and students. They can bring students to the classroom who might not have thought school was possible without owning a vehicle. Ridesharing can be the difference between a degree or dropping out.
If your college is ready to attract new students, it’s time to communicate how you can support them on their path through higher education. We can help you do that honestly and with heart. Contact us for a demonstration today.
Astin, A. W., & Oseguera, L. “Pre-college and institutional influences on degree attainment.” In A. Seidman (Ed.), College student retention: Formula for student success (2nd ed., pp. 119–145). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, (2012)
Gnass, Karen. “The College Transition for First-Year Students from Rural Oregon Communities.” Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 53:3, (2016), pp. 269-280
Johnson, J., Showalter, D., Klein, R., & Lester, C. “Why rural matters 2013-2014: The condition of rural education in the 50 states.” Washington, DC: The Rural School and Community Trust, (2014)
Scott, Shanda, Miller, M., & Morris, A., “Rural Community College Student Perceptions of Barriers to College Enrollment.” Academic Leadership Journal In Student Research. vol. 3, (2015)
Maltzan, T. L. Rurality and higher education: Implications for identity and persistence (Doctoral dissertation). Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University, (2006)