This week’s topic of engaging commuter and part-time students is one that I have extreme familiarity with. This quarter, my group’s focus for our two-part project was on this constituency, as well as my capstone for the MSHE program had components of challenges commuter student face. The definition outlined in Quaye and Harper (2015) is that commuter students are those who do not live on institution-owned housing on campus. This basic definition begins to outline the overarching challenge: as Likins (1988) mentions, commuting to campus profoundly influences the nature of a commuter student’s experience. To add to this, as mentioned in this week’s lecture notes and presentation, there is a lack of research in this area, and institutions are using the residence model as a paradigm for student development and campus life. These students are not on campus as much as a student living in an institute residence, and therefore will not be as involved in co-curricular activities. I am currently working at a commuter campus, and when classes end for the day, students immediately run for the bus and do not stay on campus. We’ve had great difficulties engaging these students in co-curricular activities, and the fact there is no residence facility creates a major barrier in engaging these students. Ultimately, as mentioned in the presentation, campuses are not home for this constituency.
One of the important characteristics of commuter students is that they are more likely to work, to work more hours, and work off campus resident students. This particular characteristics creates a huge challenge for student services’ practitioners: this constituency is very limited on time and therefore may need to prioritize use of that time. It is noted by Quaye and Harper that students in this constituency may be working, and/or have a family, so they are challenged in negotiating with family, employers, and others to establish priorities, responsibilities, and time commitments. If the student is around individuals who do not understand the demands of higher education, this could lead to a weakened support network.
The key service area through my research on this constituency is academic advising. Advisors can not only assist students with registration, but they can also be contact person for other non-academic inquiries, even if it is as simple as being able to refer them to the appropriate area. In some of my research studies that were reviewed as a part of my capstone, connection with advising showed a positive correlation to student retention, so there’s benefit for both student and institution. In my current pilot project at a commuter campus, students are generally confused on where to get support on a variety of issues. As an academic advisor, if I have not been able to answer their questions, I have been able to refer them to the appropriate office, which in turn has lessened the stress on these students. Having a “go-to” person is very important for this constituency, because if they don’t, I personally feel the institution will eventually lose that student if they cannot figure things out for themselves.
There are many important programmatic interventions that are required to support this constituency. A mandatory orientation, similar to the one offered at the University of Pittsburgh, needs to take place to introduce students to services offered, get them comfortable on their new campus setting, and involve the academic advising department so a connection can be established with this critical function. Family members of incoming students should also be included in this orientation so they can feel a part of the process of their family member attending college, and ways to support them through the journey. Offering a mentorship program that matches incoming students to returning students can also benefit so commuter/part-time students can receive peer-to-peer assistance, which will hopefully allow them to build a comfort level on campus and encourage them to participate in study groups and co-curricular activities. This last point is very important, as it becomes critical to improve the “sense of belonging” common need of this constituency. It is up to administrators to evaluate the current environment for this constituency and work to eliminate any institutional barriers. Although the research indicates the challenges of juggling priorities, if this constituency is provided clear information on the importance of certain activities, they may be more inclined to participate, and feel a part of the campus community. Also, the use of information technology is an important intervention that needs to be explored further. If students in theory are able to download a smartphone application that provides them instant information on support services available, registration dates, calendar of events, etc., this will provide students more awareness about what the institution has to offer, and how to access it. The use of a portal, similar to OrgSync, which is used by the University of Toledo, can provide information including off-campus housing and a board to post questions.
Overall, if we were to map out the strategic enrollment management process, there are areas throughout that need improvement to better support commuter and part-time students. Ultimately, as it is for other constituencies discussed in this course, the institution needs to prioritize the servicing of this constituency if it wishes to improve the current situation. Institutions such as the University of Toledo, University of Houston, and New York University have commuter service offices, which are a great initiative to have a “go-to” department that prioritizes their needs, but also provides them with programming such as commuter lounges, orientations, and events.
This week's photo is of Lions Gate Bridge, an iconic bridge that links Vancouver to West and North Vancouver.