Living off campus can affect commuters

Not living near or on campus can take away from the whole University experience.

by Hilary Dickinson

More than 50,000 students attend the University, but not all of them call it home.

Kelsi Johnson, a kinesiology sophomore, is one of them. She commutes from her home in Crystal because she says it’s cheaper than living in the dorms.

“I feel like a perfectly normal college student,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m missing out on the whole dorm experience.”

However, the quality of a student’s undergraduate experience is enhanced by living on or near campus, according to the University’s Student Interest Survey.

In fact, increasing campus and near-campus housing was one of the key elements in enhancing the quality of the undergraduate experience during the ’90s, when Mark Yudof was the University president, according to the survey.

Yet many commuters like Johnson said they feel they are getting a full college experience.

If students want to enhance their college experience, they can join student groups, work an on-campus job, join study groups or do service learning, said Laura Knudson, a student activities adviser.

“Commuters can get a full college experience,” she said. “They just need to take a proactive approach.”

Rosalind Clifford, a commuter from Saint Francis, and officer of the student group Commuter Connection, said the only thing she misses out on is Gophers After Dark because she would get home too late. She often hosts and attends Commuter Connection events on campus such as bagel breakfasts, pizza lunches and casino night.

“I feel much more involved now, and I get leadership skills by planning events,” said the biology, society and the environment sophomore.

Johnson said since she joined Commuter Connection, she experiences a social atmosphere by hanging out in the group’s room in Coffman Union.

“I felt more secluded before,” she said. “But now I come in here and know people from campus and classes, and we can study together.”

Clifford said she thinks commuters meet more people than students who live on or near campus.

“When you ride the bus you meet a diverse range of people,” she said.

However, Josh Mann, a community adviser at Sanford Hall, and Jack Petty, a community adviser at Middlebrook Hall, both said students who live on or near campus can meet people and have more opportunities to hang out with them because they don’t have to leave campus.

“It’s an ego boost to walk around campus and see a sea of people and see 10 people you know,” Petty, a mechanical engineering senior, said.

It’s also easier for students to attend events and join organizations when they live on or near campus, Mann, a history and political science senior, said.

“If you get on a bus and go home to the suburbs, you’re probably not going to go back to a sporting event,” he said.

But there is still disparity in the different forms of on-campus and near-campus housing. Petty said even living in an apartment can’t give students a full college experience.

“Apartments are a different world,” he said. “It’s hard to reach that ground of knocking on someone’s door and saying, ‘Hi, I’m new here.’ In dorms, it’s totally legit to go knock on someone’s door.”

Emily Schreiner, a sixth-year history student, said she’s glad she lived on campus for three years at Iowa State University, because she learned to be independent.

Now she commutes from Lino Lakes because, she said, “I’m past the point where I feel like I have to be on campus to get what I need.”

Still, she said it’s hard for her to find buses to campus, and parking is expensive.

Laura Knudson said the quality of a commuter’s college experience can be enhanced if people at the University ensure that programs, activities and events are available and attractive to commuter students.