Commuters Hope for More and Less at UMass Lowell

Most UMass Lowell commuter students have said that people see them as part-time members of the UML community who miss out on the college experience. Three commuting upperclassmen at UMass Lowell talk about why they opted for lower student loan bills, and maybe less college party stories. Mary Connelly, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs explains how the university has tried to do everything they could to help commuting students, whether that be the commuter down the street, twenty minutes away, the single parent, or the veteran, be as involved on campus as possible.

UMass Lowell’s urban campus is divided around the city of Lowell with a North Campus (mainly engineering, math and technology), South Campus (art/music, humanities and nursing), and East Campus (residential). Lowell is rising as a ‘college town’ with many UML-owned buildings dispersed through the city as well as recent media attention in 2013 from well-known business industries including forbes and Business Insider.

Commuter students have expressed the hassle of commuting, but the many benefits to being at home. Three full-time English majors Brittany Caldwell, Niki Roberge and Johnny Phauk talked about life as a commuter. All three expressed the trouble with time management, and the difficulty of contributing more to the UML community, but the advantage of saving money and being home with their family and friends.

Johnny Phauk, junior, lives down the street from south campus with his parents and five sisters. He said that it simply wouldn’t be feasible for him to live on campus.

“Yeah, you can walk to campus!” said Roberge while listening to Phauk speak about reasons he chose to commute.

Niki Roberge commutes from Dracut, MA, which is one town over from Lowell, and said that it’s not hard to get to campus, but she likes living at home. Brittany Caldwell used to live in Lowell, but decided to live at home for her senior year. The English major from Newburyport, MA says she didn’t like living in Lowell.

“I found myself always going home, so I decided to save money this year and just live at home,” Caldwell said, even though her commute can be anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours with traffic. “I’m also on the cheerleading squad, so I’m here six days a week, sometimes twice a day.”

“I think student’s need an anchor on campus,” said Mary Connelly, who has been working with UMass Lowell since September 1987, as well as with other universities since 1979. She said that the university raises a lot of money so that students can work on-campus and spend their time connecting with the university.

“Stay! See what’s going on! There’s a lot,” Connelly said, while speaking about how she feels nervous for the commuters that treat college like high school where they go to class, and leave campus once they’re finished, living their lives with mainly off-campus jobs and friends. She also talked about University Crossing going up next year to be somewhat of a “hub” for commuter students; lounges, food, student clubs, activities, and resources.

When asked if the commuter students felt they were part of the UMass Lowell community, or if they thought they would be more involved with extra-curricular or club activities if they lived on-campus they agreed that commuting makes it hard to be involved, but not impossible.

“I just feel like if I did live on campus, I’d have a lot more experiences here,” said Phauk. “Yeah, you don’t get to spend the whole day with your friends, or have a roommate,” said Roberge. While the two of them do participate in some of the English Department’s programs.

Connelly said, “I don’t think we’ve broken it down so much by, you know, commuters, as, what is it that our students need.” Daily announcements, and student activity posters are meant not only for residential students, but for all students, including commuters. She urges students to sign up for the FREE (to UML students, $30 to Non-UML), November 2nd Women’s Leadership Conference. She said, “this is going to be one of the best programs that we have for women at this school this year.”

During the past semester, UMass Lowell has been moved to Division I in all sports, and become a member of the America East Conference replacing Boston University, who will move to the Patriot League after the academic year. The step up, however, includes a rise in prices for students. The most noticeable price jump was for the Fall 2013 mandatory commuter parking decals. Students say that UMass Lowell’s ambition to transform the city (20/20 Vision) has become a costly plan for current and future students of the university.

South Campus’ New Parking Garage finished in Summer 2013.

“I got a carpooling one [pass], so I paid for half and my sister paid for half, which is a little better, but you only have one so you can’t drive two cars,” Roberge said about the price of the parking decals.

When asked about the jump in prices for parking decals Connelly said, “they raised it on the admin and faculty too, there was an increase in all of these fees.”

UMass Lowell allows freshman to bring their cars to campus, something a lot of universities have banned, “we realize that so many of our students are working, we’re trying real hard to make sure that that doesn’t happen here,” Connelly said.

The choice between living at home, and living on-campus varies between feasibility, close proximity, as well as comfort, but students, as well as commuter students, have found their own ways to become involved in student life.

“Student’s time is like gold, and how you invest it is, you pick carefully,” said Connelly.

Writer’s Memo: the transitions are still a bit choppy and Mary Connelly gave me so much information and I wish I could have added it into the story better, so I hope that if I do end up submitting it to the paper I can make those adds-ins.

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