Can A College Grow If Students Need A Car To Get There?

By Micheline Maynard

Fire up, Chips!

Last winter, I was a Donald Reynolds Visiting Professor of Business Journalism at Central Michigan University. I loved working with my students (check out their work on our Reinventing Michigan blog), and I enjoyed life in Mount Pleasant.

What I didn’t really enjoy was my weekly commute, about 125 miles each way from Ann Arbor. If there had been Amtrak, I would have gladly taken it.

There also were limited local transportation options, meaning I had to drive everywhere once I got to school. If CMU had a bike sharing system, it would have been fun to try it out in order to get around. (I didn’t buy my bike until after classes ended.)

But short of chartering a plane, the only way to reach Mount Pleasant was to drive. It turns out that’s becoming a concern for CMU in trying to recruit students, too, according to CMLife, the student paper.

Writer Ryan Fitzmaurice says the lack of public transportation to the mid-Michigan school is hampering efforts to attract more kids  from out of state. Universities in Michigan charge roughly double the tuition to out-state students, and they’ve become a lucrative source of revenue as schools battle budget cuts.

“The biggest comment I get from parents from out-of-state students is this: We think Central Michigan is a great school and a great institution, but how am I going to get my child there without buying them a car?” Senior Associate Director of Admissions Kevin Williams told the paper.

Bus lines like Greyhound and Indian Trails have limited services to Central and Northern Michigan because of the lack of traffic heading toward those areas of the state, Denny Adams, director of public relations and marketing for the Isabella County Transportation Commission, told CMLife.

The closest airports to Mount Pleasant are Lansing or Flint, each about an hour away by car. Students who arrive via Detroit Metropolitan International Airport face a lengthy trip.

A Greyhound bus leaves the airport at 12:10 p.m. where it proceeds to make stops in Southfield, Ann Arbor and Jackson before transferring passengers to another bus in Lansing. The bus arrives two hours later at 7:12 p.m. in Mount Pleasant.

If students miss the bus, they wait another day until the next bus arrives or rent a car.

CMU is far from the only school that faces issues about getting students to campus. In other parts of the U.S., some universities, and private secondary schools, have to schedule their own charter bus services so that students can get to and from major cities.

And, the university is stepping up to improve options for students where it can, like arranging for an Indian Trails bus to Lansing to pick up students at the events center, rather than the back of a gas station.

Without addressing transportation issues, Williams told the paper that the university will continue to face difficulties when recruiting out-of-state and international students.

“We have the opportunity and potential to be one of the most successful universities in the state,” Williams said. “But this needs to be addressed first.”



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