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COLUMN: Woes of a commuter student

October 3, 2019

I am an MSU senior, and I have never stepped foot in a Michigan State dorm room. 

Yes, we exist.

For many, the mental image of college is one of dorm life. Living on campus is seen as the quintessential college experience. 

Being on your own for the first time, living with a roommate and having all of your friends nearby sounds like a dream, and for a lot of college students, on-campus living is perfect. However, there does exist a large section of students who don’t live within the confines of an MSU dorm room — commuter students. 

Some commuter students are familiar with dorm life, living just slightly off campus in apartments within throwing distance of their classes. Others can take a CATA bus to class or hop on a bike and get to their 10 a.m. classes with few issues. A lot of us live pretty far away from campus, however, and getting up at the crack of dawn for a 10 a.m. class is a necessity. 

My first semester at MSU had me commuting close to an hour and a half each way, meaning three hours of my day were spent listening to podcasts. The 35-minute commute could often be 40 or 45 minutes if there was any kind of traffic backup. An accident on the highway was a surefire way to make me almost 20 minutes late to class. 

I grew up and lived with my parents in Laingsburg, a small town of about 1,000 people. I spent the first two and a half years of my college life a 35-minute drive away from East Lansing — 25 minutes on a good day with no traffic. That doesn’t sound that bad, until you factor in parking. 

My personal mortal enemy — parking. MSU offers very little accessible parking. I would park in Commuter Lot 89, and my first classes would be in Berkey Hall. After a 30-minute bus ride, my total commute became two hours and ten minutes. If I missed the bus, though, I was really screwed for a while.

I found more accessible alternative parking spaces later in the semester, but they weren’t always reliable, and many required payment. The parking ramp near the Communication Arts and Sciences Building and the Natural Resources Building is my current favorite spot. Parking there cuts out a decent chunk of my commuter time. No more bus, no more long waits. I can walk directly to my class. 

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That’s all well and good, until I get a ticket for an expired meter. I tried paying with the Park on MSU app, but I could never get it to open on my phone, and it kept rejecting my credit card on my desktop. 

An alternative solution to taking the bus every day would be parking my car and biking or walking to class, but I’ve been highlighting accessible parking because I am disabled. I was born with Sever's disease, a childhood birth defect that causes extreme heel pain. It’s supposed to go away during puberty, but not always. 

I’m currently undergoing surgery to rectify this, but in the meantime, walking to class from a commuter lot is just not feasible. 

And if I’m being honest, even able-bodied students shouldn’t have to walk that far to class. It can be dangerous during the colder months and thunderstorms or any kind of inclement weather.

But there’s more to being a commuter student than foot pain and long commutes. Many professors expect students to live on campus and structure assignments and due dates around that assumption. The amount of times I’ve heard, “This assignment shouldn’t take long, it’s only x amount of minutes from campus,” is enough to fill an entire overpriced textbook. 

Most fail to understand that many of their students have three fewer hours for assignments than their on-campus counterparts. It becomes a real source of stress. 

Despite my constant complaining, I would still much rather live off campus. The dorm life is not for everyone. I like having a space to call my own. Being in control of your domicile is empowering — I just wish MSU would do more to accommodate us. More parking sounds nice, but doesn’t seem realistic. Perhaps more bus routes? 

Who’s to say. 

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Now, I live near Frandor. It’s about a five to 10 minute drive to my classes now, but I still have to pay for parking or get a parking pass and take the bus. 

It’s still a hassle.

This story is part of our fall 2019 housing guide. Find more stories about on and off campus living in this week's print edition of The State News, or click here.


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