How Inadequate Transit Harms College Students

A lack of access to affordable and reliable transit is being cited as a major reason why many college students don't finish school.

2 minute read

December 15, 2021, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

"At a time when colleges are increasingly focused on how to get and keep students enrolled and on a path to a degree, some of the most surprising challenges are not academic but logistical," writes Charlotte West. One of these challenges: affordable, reliable transportation.

With the majority of U.S. college students commuting to class, transportation can make a crucial difference for millions who cannot access or afford transit services. One study found that "Hispanic students were 19 percent more likely to report transportation problems as creating a barrier to college completion than non-Hispanics." Lack of access to transportation can lead students to miss classes and fall behind, while expensive car repairs and transportation costs can put students in even deeper debt.

In response, some colleges and cities have launched programs that provide low-cost or free transit passes and bring education closer to students with satellite campuses located near transit, sometimes funded with COVID-19 relief funds. 

Rural students face their own set of challenges as they're often reliant on personal transportation in regions with sparse public transportation services. In these cases, colleges can help students by providing their own shuttle services or grants to help students pay for car repairs. According to research cited in the article, supporting effective and affordable transportation for students can have a positive impact on students' chances to stay enrolled and graduate, while advocates of fare-free transit argue that eliminating fares would increase equity and bring more people closer to economic opportunities and urban amenities.

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