Student Commutes: a Moment to De-Stress, or a Barrier to College Life?
Updated: Oct 11, 2021
By Gerald Burton, Katie George, Jack McCormick, Brandon Yn
Boasting more parking garages than residence halls, UMSL is widely known as a commuter school. Because of this, its students face challenges that are not as common at other area universities. For some, the commute is a routine expectation of adulthood. For others, it adds more stress to an already demanding time and takes away from the college experience.
Car trouble plagued business student Mackenzie Wilson’s commute to class. “When I had my old car, it burned up a lot of gas and I had to fill up every week. On top of that, my car started leaking transmission fluid so I was constantly worried that it would give out and I wouldn't make it to school.”
Wilson is one of multiple students at UMSL with an hour-long one-way drive. “My commute sometimes makes me feel mentally and physically drained, especially after a long day at school and when I know I have a lot of homework to get done. I sit in traffic and think about all the things I need to do, and get angry that no one is moving.”
Wilson’s commute also makes it hard for her to partake in campus life at UMSL. “I don't want to drive an hour to stay on campus for only an hour. This affects some classes. For example, my cultural traditions class is required to get involved with certain activities. But most are on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I don't have classes.”
William Mullins is another student whose trip to UMSL totals two hours both ways. “The number of hours I have to spend behind the wheel sometimes can be very exhausting—and also bad for my anxiety, being stuck like that for so long,” Mullins stated. “I don't ever feel that I'm close enough to take part in anything because of how far away I live. I spend more time in the car than I do on campus.”
Students with hour-long drives are not the only ones missing out on-campus events and activities. In a survey of 28 UMSL students whose one-way trips ranged from 20 to 45 minutes, a 67.8% majority reported their commute to be mentally or physically draining. Additionally, 75% reported that their commute affects their motivation to participate in extracurriculars.
“We have members who commute 45 minutes on a one-way trip to UMSL. And it really does keep them from participating in as many activities and events as they want,” stated Bella DeArmitt, president of UMSL’s Alpha Phi Omega chapter. “But, they make a really wonderful effort to still be involved.”
DeArmitt, who drives 20 minutes to UMSL, views her commute as a break. “I take the time in my car to just focus [on] myself, see what I have ahead of me, and serve myself and my mental health.” DeArmitt’s drive consists of, “Fun podcasts that take my mind off of academics and responsibilities. And I also just jam to music.”
For Amanda Lopez, another 20-minute driver, “When there’s a lot of traffic and it’s raining it feels mentally draining because I hate driving. But apart from that, it’s fine.” However, she notes that “Traffic gets really intense... for afternoon activities, I tend not to come.”
The majority of UMSL’s student body commutes in some form—likely the reason why campus empties out later in the afternoon. Is an education at an affordable university worth sacrificing the typical college experience? For many Tritons, it is a worthy trade-off. As student support specialist Mary Mang puts it, “I do know a couple people with a little bit longer of a commute. I would say it’s just a matter of getting the job done.”