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Transportation is a barrier for community college students

Most US college students commute to their campuses, so transportation is a make-or-break issue for them.

Those costs may also prevent community college students from attending school and completing academic programs. The problem is so acute in Los Angeles that the Los Angeles Community College District is offering free Metro rides to all LACCD students through December 2022.

The program is similar to a pilot program approved earlier this year. That program allows Los Angeles Unified School District students to ride the Metro free through June 2023. The LACCD’s GoPass program, announced earlier this week, will share transportation costs with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. LACCD will fund the program using federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Transportation turns out to be a phenomenal expense for community college students. A recent study by the College Board showed that US college students spend nearly $2,000 annually on transportation costs. For community college students, that accounts for 20% of their annual attendance costs.

Besides standard operating costs like gas and insurance, drivers must also pay for maintenance, repairs and parking. (And this assumes the student owns the car outright.) Students on limited incomes may also have trouble maintaining a vehicle or paying for unexpected repairs. They’re also most likely to drive older cars, which tend to experience more unexpected and expensive mechanical problems.

Discounted bus passes don’t address real transportation challenges

To compensate, some community colleges (including WCC) offer discounted student bus passes. WCC’s discount bus pass is $52 per month ($624 per year). But a discount approach to transportation may not be enough. On the other hand, data show that free transportation has a profound on community college students. It improves attendance, enables students to finish more credits and increases the graduation rate. Some colleges are so convinced that transit is the key to student success that they charge a per-semester fee to provide public transportation passes to all students.

At one time, WCC participated in a semi-free transportation program for students. Given the current circumstances and the availability of federal aid, it may be time to resurrect (in a more complete way) free transportation options for WCC students.

There’s also a public policy issue at work here. Encouraging the use of mass transit enables a community college to reduce the number of cars in its parking lots each day. Reducing the number of car trips students make to the campus per day can improve the campus parking situation and reduce wear and tear on both the parking lots and the parking structure. More broadly, providing WCC students with free public transportation can reduce congestion on roads around campus and throughout AAATA’s service area.

Rather than spending $4M to bail out the Health and Fitness Center, why not spend that money on resolving one of the biggest challenges to student success: transportation to and from campus?

Photo Credit: hnt6581 , via Flickr