Commuter Students in Michigan

UPDATE: Edited and published story can be read here.


You roll over and the clock reads 9:15.

Class starts in fifteen minutes.

You live thirty miles away.

And you have a final exam.

This is a thing that leads to restless nights and horrid, sweaty, nightmares for commuter students.    Just a minute of over sleeping can lead to felonious speeds on the highway, suicide dives for parking spots on campus, and fighting against handcuffs as you beg with the officer to let you go to class before you go to jail –a once in a lifetime plea.

But why take the risk of living off campus and potentially end up being late?

“It’s cheaper and I have someone to live with,” said Jackie Bass, a junior at Eastern Michigan University.  She lived on campus the previous two years and enjoyed living on campus to avoid the parking fiasco, but now enjoys having a plethora of food options that comes with living off campus.

“I lived in Hill and it was awesome to walk downstairs and across the front yard and there was food hot and ready for you,” said Kevin Murray, a former Eastern Michigan University and then commuter who was on campus with a friend.

Living on campus for many is not an option simply due to cost, but living off campus can come with its own surprise surcharges. 

Vehicle maintenance and gas can quickly add up, especially for those that live a good distance away, or those without the sturdiest of wheels.

Gas prices aren’t the only thing that can hurt a student.  With Michigan’s weather being about as unpredictable as U of M’s defensive abilities, some students are faced with tough decisions during the winter months.

For many it’s a split-decision call of heads or tails – or a press of the snooze button – on whether they come into class when the weather turns nasty.

Bass, living only five minutes from campus, doesn’t have to make those kinds of class-participation damaging choices.

Murray said his sub-compact car wouldn’t have made the hour drive through the snow.

“I would have tried, but probably would’ve gotten stuck,” he said.

Michigan isn’t known for temperate winters, with bright sun and moderate temperatures, so for many students driving in the worst conditions is unavoidable. 

Even if you have an oil well in your backyard, and the toughest vehicle to tackle any terrain in any weather, there is still one nail that can be driven into your automotive coffin: reliability.

Climbing into your car at nine in the morning and turning the key over to hear the weak click-click-click of the starter is as about as dreadful as failing a class.  Vehicle maintenance never comes cheap, and the high costs can quickly add up.

What starts as a simple issue, can snowball into thousands of dollars’ worth of repairs, if the problem isn’t fixed.

“You have to keep up on things like checking the fluids, belts, and tires, to avoid the costliest of repairs,” said Jerry Clark, a retired mechanical engineer from Ford Motor Company.

“If something major like a transmission is going to fail, it’s going to fail.  There isn’t much you can do, but keep up on the easiest of things” Clark said.

Not everyone can afford a car made to take a bullet, or barrage for that matter, but if you keep up on the basics, the car, like the body, will keep trucking.  You don’t need a heart transplant, when a simple blood transfusion will work just fine. 

“Changing the oil on a regular basis is the best thing you can do to keep your car running,” Clark said.

So like anything in life, there are pros and cons to go with commuting as there are to go with living on campus.  Which way the scale tips depends on the person.  Some enjoy the close proximity of everything while living on campus, while others enjoy the thrill of beating the clock to get to class.

The question is what will stop you from getting to class; gas prices, a dead battery, the snowpocalype, or a few set of stairs and a walk across campus?