Commuter students frustrated with University fees and feel disconnected with campus
‘It’s not a lack of money, it’s just a poor allocation of resources’
Student commuters feel that living off campus and commuting changes the way they interact with the campus and their classes. In light of American University’s tuition increase, students living farther from campus feel that tuition and fees for student commuters are an undue burden.
Amirah Ahmed is a rising sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences who lives at home with her parents in Fredericksburg, Virginia. On Tuesdays and Fridays when she had classes last semester, Ahmed would wake up at 3 a.m. to make the four-hour long commute to campus and she typically wouldn’t arrive back at her home until 8 or 9 p.m.
“It’s quite the hassle,” Ahmed said. “I swear I’ve never gotten better sleep than I do at home on those days because it’s just so exhausting.”
Ahmed gave several reasons as to why she lived off campus this past academic year.
“It was, one, much cheaper than living in a dorm. The living costs in D.C. are insane and I was already struggling to pay tuition. And, two, I’m Muslim and Arab and, culturally, you stay at home,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed plans on living in D.C. next semester, but expressed a disconnect with the campus from living so far away this past year. While she said that she has joined many extracurriculars and clubs such as the Muslim Student Association, her commute still prevents her from fully participating in campus life.
“I really don’t get to connect with the campus community,” Ahmed said. “I like being super involved and getting to know my campus, but this doesn’t really allow me to do that because when I am on campus, I’m in class all day. I don’t have breaks to go interact with students and stuff like that.”
Ahmed said that she is working two jobs this semester and still can’t afford to live in D.C. and pay for tuition. She said she felt that the University’s tuition and insufficient financial aid stands in the way of her being able to live in D.C. and succeed academically at the University.
“It’s frustrating because I could be excelling academically and I could be such a great asset to AU if I had the resources, if I wasn’t spending so much of my time and energy just trying to make it to school,” Ahmed said.
Caroline Cassy is a rising senior in the School of Communications who commutes from Potomac, Maryland. Cassy is a Music and Public Relations and Strategic Communications double major and decided to live with her parents in Potomac because she thought there was a lack of practice room availability on campus.
Cassy said that, despite living in Potomac, she stays on campus most of the day. “So my friends have a joke that I only sleep at my house and I do everything else on campus,” Cassy said.
Cassy said she is lucky enough to have her own car to commute to campus because there is no public transportation where she lives that goes towards D.C. Although her commute is easier than students such as Ahmed, she faces difficulties with the steep prices of parking on campus.
“For an entire year, it's $1,200,” Cassy said. “I feel like they put it at a higher price to discourage people from driving since there's limited parking, but overall, I would say that it's on the more expensive side of a parking pass in my opinion.”
Cassy said that, despite having her own car, she also uses her U-Pass, but not all student commuters like being required to hold a U-Pass.
Saviour Dayire is a rising junior in the College of Arts and Science and lives in Dupont Circle.
Although his commute is not particularly challenging — he drives to campus — he is frustrated that he is required to pay for the U-Pass when he rarely uses it.
“For somebody who doesn't have good transportation, that's a good deal to get, you can just go with that option, but if you don't need it, it can make a difference to put that money somewhere else,” Dayire said.
For Paul Klein, a rising senior in CAS who commutes from near Union Market, his U-Pass is very convenient.
“That has been a tremendous thing to have access to the U-Pass because otherwise it would cost me something like $7 a day to come to school and that would be really challenging. We’re already paying so much to be here,” Klein said.
For students who rely on the Metro to commute to campus, it can be challenging with the 7000-series trains out of order.
“You'd be surprised at how much more frustrating that makes taking the metro,” said James Blair, a senior in CAS. Blair commutes from Bethesda, Md.
Though for the most part, for students like Klein and Blair, commuting to and from campus is not particularly challenging.
“I love having the commute from campus. Having twenty minutes on the Metro and to sort of have built-in homework time is really great,” Klein said. “It’s where I get some of my last minute reading done and then it’s also nice some days to have a sort of decompression time.”
Yet, this is not the case for all students. Ahmed said that she is regularly harassed on her commute. She also said that her commute eats up so much time in her day, that it makes getting her school work done harder for her.
“On the days I commute I am literally unable to complete any work,” Ahmed said. “Those days are so unproductive and a bunch of wasted time because I’m spending four hours in commute or eight hours total in the day that I can’t work.”
Dayire and Blair also say that they feel they need to do their school work in a proper environment, on campus instead of at their homes, and so commuting can also be a hindrance in that regard.
Klein acknowledged although commuting to campus can be challenging for him, he takes it in stride.
“We know that Metro doesn’t run as well as it should. We know that the Wonk bus doesn’t run as often as it should or that it’s very full. And so the only way to work with that on an individual level is to accept the way things are and change the things that can change,” Klein said.
For Ahmed, however, she felt that more concrete action could be taken by the University for students who especially struggle with commuting because they can’t afford to live in D.C. with the price of tuition.
“If financial aid wasn’t a problem and I could afford even to go to AU, I’d be able to live in D.C. or live on campus, but I’ve tried working it out with AU Financial Aid,” Ahmed said “A lot of other commuter students and students in general get so frustrated because it’s not a lack of money, it’s just a poor allocation of resources.”