Transport is a basic need
However, the challenges are considerable. Consider that in 43% of the main campuses of community and technical colleges, there is not even an easily accessible public transport stop on foot, according to a recently released map. Over 18% do not have a stop within 4.5 miles. Solutions will require creativity – and cooperation, even partnerships with organizations beyond the campus.
At the same time, the dynamics are undeniable, stimulated in part by grants from the Kresge and Seldin / Haring-Smith Foundations. Note: The new GoPass program providing free transportation to students in the Los Angeles County Community College District has come in response to grant-funded experiments in the region showing that students persisted at higher rates with subsidized transit.
Congress has also started to pay attention. U.S. Representative Conor Lamb and Senator Robert Casey, both Democrats from Pennsylvania, recently introduced bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate calling on the U.S. Departments of Labor and Transportation to offer competitive grants to promote better access to transportation in common in colleges. As part of their justification for this Law on the way to college, lawmakers cited the new map, developed by the Seldin / Haring Smith Foundation. An analysis accompanying the map also provides an overview of access to public transit at four-year colleges, HBCUs, and other institutions serving minorities. And this year, the foundation plans to add state-by-state information on access to public transportation on all campuses.
Abigail Seldin, executive director and co-founder of the foundation, calls the map “just a starting point” for further discussions on access to public transportation. In fact, it is an essential catalyst. The map is the first tool to show how existing public transport systems leave students stranded. It also shows how minor adjustments to transit systems could increase access: an additional 25% of two-year colleges, for example, could be made accessible by short-trip extensions, schedule changes, or shuttles. regular to nearby stops.
I have been observing the evolution of access to transport for a few years now. The free transportation for students that Joe May, then Chancellor of the Dallas Community College District, negotiated with local transportation officials in 2017 piqued my interest. The problem seemed less urgent when the pandemic struck and so many courses went online. Now, with in-person classes more prevalent (assuming this current spike in Covid-19 cases is short-lived) and colleges looking to increase enrollment, transit is relevant again.
Compared to the costs and complexity of helping students with other commonly identified basic needs (such as food, accommodation, and child care), transportation might be an easier route. This is because many of the solutions that would help students could also benefit transit organizations, as they aim to maximize usage and foster a culture of rider. Solutions are easier to achieve when all parties see the potential for victory.
But it will all take work. Including:
Understand the issues. Colleges may not realize how impacted students are by transit limitations. The District of Dallas, for example, only learned that public transit was the biggest obstacle students faced until after interviewing them and asking 30 administrators to observe 70 students for several months, m ‘ said May. Public transit passes made a difference, increasing the number of regular students from 10,000 to 30,000 (before Covid).
Align public transport timetables with student timetables. As much as affordable fares and nearby stops are important, they will be of no use if buses and trains don’t run when students need them. At many institutions, students attend evening classes or have to travel to clinical sites to complete the course requirements, not to mention the commute from work to campus (or their child’s school or daycare). Unless rail and bus systems can meet these daily needs, even an expanded free system will not suffice. In Dallas, the transportation company adjusted schedules to make it easier for nursing students to access clinical sites.
Build relationships between colleges and transit leaders. Colleges alone cannot reduce barriers to student transportation. Cooperation with those responsible for local and regional transport is vital. In some communities this is already happening, in part thanks to a “basic need” project linking cities and colleges, led by the National League of Cities. But are post-secondary leaders at the table when transit agencies make decisions? This is a point that Bela Shah Spooner, program director at the League’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families, brought up with me recently. I suspect that few are. As more and more colleges understand how transportation limits affect their students, let’s hope that changes.
Earn money. Colleges cannot expect transit agencies to offer – let alone expand – their services for free. But in many cases, adding student riders might not cost these agencies a lot of money. In Dallas, for example, the community college district pays Dallas Area Rapid Transit $ 20 per student to provide free passes. It’s doable because property values have risen in the area, the former chancellor said, and the district is using some of the growing tax revenue to cover the cost. As Seldin told me, “In a world where a lot of top-notch solutions can be very expensive, it’s very cheap.
Of course, this little agenda is not exhaustive. On the one hand, it focuses primarily on “last mile” connections for colleges and transit agencies to help students get to campus. But many students live in places where there is no transit stop near their homes. As May put it, for them, “the ‘first mile’ is the problem.”
And many other students live in communities where there is not only no stopping, but no public transportation at all. For car-dependent students, more meaningful support could be as simple as a change in federal student aid policy that now prohibits students from using Title IV money to buy a car. (Last year Seldin advocated dropping this ban in this editorial in The hill.)
Finally, while it seems fairly obvious that making it easier and more affordable for students to enter and return to campuses will also make it more likely that they will persist in their educational goals, it should be argued that further research focused specifically on the impacts of transport assistance would be useful. (Previous evaluations of programs like CUNY ASAP have demonstrated their value, but these programs included support other than transportation.) Bethany Miller, who until recently oversaw university transportation grants for Kresge, is one people who encourage this work. At the moment, the cause is on the rise. But being able to quantify whether and how the spending pays off could show college leaders and policymakers that such investments are worth it, Miller said, even “when dollars are scarce.”
Here are a few education-related stories from other outlets that have recently caught my attention. Did I miss a good one? Let me know.
- As federal policymakers assess new accountability measures for higher education, they should recognize that “information alone is not enough to keep students away from underperforming schools,” say four education researchers in this writing Posted on The table in the brown center at Brookings. “To claim otherwise,” he said, “will only exacerbate the persistent inequalities in our higher education system and in society.
- Five years after writing a book on increasing non-degree credentials, Sean Gallagher of Northeastern University is reflected in EdSurge that “there is still a major need for standards, infrastructure, thoughtful policies, experiments and innovative research to support the development of an ecosystem of quality credentials offerings”.
- When the economy is down, tertiary education enrollments generally increase. But when we’re in the middle of what The Washington Post calls “The most unusual job market in modern American history,” it’s harder to predict what will come next.
Have a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at [email protected] If you received this newsletter and would like to review past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free of charge, sign up here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my grip.