Life on the road

Christina Tesar

Daily commutes to class have both pros and cons

ABBY FISHER | DAILY KENT STATER

Junior philosophy major Mary Riley rides a bus to the stadium to retrieve her car after Tuesday classes. Riley, who commutes from Warren, said she likes living on her own and the freedom that commuting provides.

Credit: Adam Griffiths

On a typical Monday night, junior philosophy major Mary Riley punches out of the work time clock at 11:30 and heads home. Knowing she has a long drive and a school day ahead of her, she struggles to get to bed around 1 a.m.

Riley, a commuter from Warren, commutes 35 miles three days a week to the Kent campus.

The same Monday evening, Bobby Makar, a junior electronic media production major, arrives home a little after 10 p.m. from his job at the local Giant Eagle. He has been commuting three years from Streetsboro to Kent State, a 20-minute drive.

After a quick bite to eat, he jumps into bed. He wakes up Tuesday morning at 5:30. After he injects his diabetic insulin, eats breakfast and gets dressed, he is on the road for a 7:45 a.m. class. Ending his last class at 5 p.m., he is again on the road driving back to his job that starts an hour later.

“I have to get up a lot earlier than other students,” he said. “It’s a good walk from the ice arena to class everyday though. I eat a lot of burritos, and I feel that the far walks to campus help me to trim off calories.”

Riley’s school days begin with a 10 a.m. cup of coffee, and depending on morning traffic, she typically makes it to campus a little after noon. Her classes, scheduled back-to-back, allow her only enough time for a slight lunch break, and then she heads back to class until leaving Kent’s campus at 7:00 p.m. Arriving home around 8 p.m., she makes a quick dinner, straightens the house, watches television and begins her homework until going to bed at 1 a.m.

“On school days my life is just school,” she said. “Because of my schedule, I don’t have time to do anything but school.”

According to the Center for Student Involvement’s Web site, more than 87 percent of all college students nationwide commute to campus. Out of the 25,000 students at Kent State, approximately 19,500 of them are considered to be commuters, no matter the distance they travel.

Driving, driving and more driving

Because Riley travels to campus three days a week and drives to Strongsville to visit her parents most weekends, she typically spends close to $60 per week on gas.

“Gas is a huge concern. I try to limit driving whenever I can,” she said.

For other commuters, riding a community or off-campus bus may be a cheaper alternative, which Riley said any commuter should take if he or she has the chance.

“Unfortunately, I drive myself. If there was a bus available that I could take to school, I would,” she said. “It would save me some serious gas money, but Kent does not offer commuter bus service in Warren or any surrounding city.”

Makar, who drives to Kent five or six days a week for classes, guitar lessons and to hang out with friends, spends $30 a week on gas.

“I often carpool with a few friends to save on the expense,” he said.

So far, living off-campus has posed some problems for Riley, such as the weather conditions in Warren verses those in Kent. On several occasions, she was unable to get out of her driveway due to heavy snow but was still expected to be in class at Kent, where little snow had fallen.

“I couldn’t get out of my driveway – how could I make it to Kent?” Riley said. “It especially gets me when class is canceled, but notice hasn’t been given to the hotline or any other source. I hate driving 40 miles and showing up to a ‘class is canceled’ sign on the door.”

Because her health insurance is covered under the university health center’s system and because she is within 40 miles of campus, she is forced to drive to campus for any medical problems.

“If I want to use a doctor in Warren, it gets confusing and expensive because of the co-pay,” she said. “They make it very difficult for the commuter to use community doctors and health services.”

Fortunately, Makar said, he hasn’t had many problems with the weather because it is usually the same in his town and in Kent.

“For the most part, I feel as if my teachers have always been very understanding of my possible tardiness,” Makar said. “One of my teachers this semester purposely started a few minutes late to accommodate for late commuters.”

Kevin Hallsky, executive director of the Commuter and Off-Campus Student Organization, said his organization exists to help commuters with any issues they have. He said the main concerns his organization hears from commuters are about gas prices and parking availability.

“We take these problems on as a whole rather than individually,” Hallsky said. “With regards to the parking situation, COSO has two members in the Transportation Advisory Committee; they look at ways to improve the parking availability and busing for commuters.”

The choice to commute

Hallsky encouraged students who are considering commuting to speak to current commuters to help decide whether it’s the right choice for them.

Hallsky said only certain people are cut out to be commuters. “They must be more independent in budgeting their money and their living situation, and they must have good time management skills to manage classes and the extra time it takes to get to campus.”

Riley and Makar both said that students thinking of commuting should evaluate what kind of person they are and the pros and cons of his or her own situation.

Riley, who said she values her own space and isn’t into the collegiate party atmosphere, believes the good things about being a commuter outweigh the bad.

“As a commuter, I have a sense of a personal life that is not consumed by the label ‘college,'” she said. “I appreciate the space I have and the relationship I have with my roommate versus being crammed in a dorm, which never really appealed to me. I like the fact I can cook for myself rather than be subjected to a meal plan.”

For anyone thinking of commuting, she gives one piece of advice: plan ahead. A regular routine is essential and allows students to use their time more efficiently since time is wasted driving.

“It is difficult sometimes when I think of what I could be getting accomplished instead of driving,” she said. “Before I go to bed each night, I go over my day: what I got accomplished and what my goals are for tomorrow.”

Makar said commuters should schedule lengthy breaks, sit in crowded areas and talk to a lot of people in order to create a social life on campus.

“And set your clock 20 minutes fast so when you see it in the morning, you’ll think you’re running 20 minutes behind, but in reality, you’re 20 minutes ahead,” he said.

Even though both commuters realize commuting takes extra time and might cause them to miss out on on-campus activities, they said they are happy with their decision to commute.

“I think it takes a certain kind of person to commute,” Riley said. “I am sure I missed out on certain things, but I also have been able to take part in things I wouldn’t have, had I been living on campus. It’s a tradeoff, really.”

Contact transportation and commuting reporter Christina Tesar at [email protected]