For Eden Yohannes, coming to SF State from Petaluma can cost up to $26 a day.
She and other students from the North Bay often commute because they cannot afford to live in San Francisco and have opted to live with their families outside the city.
Commuting to SF State comes with a series of obstacles and costs that are often disregarded when considering the college experience, and SF State should do more to help commuting students.
While the majority of commuter students come from the East Bay, many, like myself, also come from the North Bay Area and cities such as Petaluma and Sonoma.
Yohannes, 22, is a communications studies major who lives with her family in Petaluma. At home, she pays $500 in rent. Although she has class three days a week, she drives into the city only one of those days.
Yohannes lives at home due to the sheer cost of living in the city.
“I just can’t afford it,” Yohannes said. “The difference is $15,000 (a year) to live on campus versus living at home.”
However, while one saves on rent, they also pay while commuting. Driving into the city from Petaluma costs an average of $26 a day after taking into account the price of gas, parking and bridge toll. Even if a student does not own a car, the bus is not much more economical, saving only $5-10 a day at the cost of two additional hours of travel time.
These financial costs can add up, and can often have academic ramifications. Christopher Clemens, SF State professor and advisor in the Broadcasts and Electronic Communication Arts, has seen numerous drawbacks with students who have to commute.
“A lot of people come here because you get a good education, but you also get it at a decent price,” Clemens said.
Clemens also pointed out that managing the cost of a commute reduces the cost efficiency. Additionally, these students have to face a series of obstacles when assigned group work because coming into the city for one more day that week can cost them upwards of $20 more.
Commuting also comes with a variety of time-based stressors for students. In addition to factoring in the cost of the commute, time is a genuine concern as well. Yohannes has only been commuting for a month, but she already feels a strain on her time and student interaction.
“It’s difficult to meet up with students and get homework done in general because I have a job back home on the days I don’t have class,” Yohannes said.
Balancing a commute can make a student’s busy schedule feel that much more stressful, as every opportunity to meet with fellow students or come to campus requires the time to drive and the money to commute.
Edy Hatcher, 21, is a Criminal Justice Major has been commuting to SF State for 2 years from her home in Sonoma. She enjoys her commute, but has felt the stress others feel. Hatcher has joined a handful of student groups to try and receive the college experience, but attending meetings can be difficult.
Though she lives with her mom, she feels like they don’t get to be as close as she would like them to be. “I see her every day, but there is no real time to be home for dinner,” Hatcher said.
Hatcher’s out of her house for so long, sometimes up to 12 hours per day, that when she comes to campus, it affects her time with her mom. Despite living together, spending time with her mom is a challenge; “I feel like (my mom) is there, but not there,” Hatcher said.
Hatcher does feel that there is some good that comes from commuting. “For all the students who commute, they have their reasons,” she said. “It makes you a stronger person. It may be an obstacle, but it’s worth it.”
While many of the stresses involved with commuting are hard to eliminate, there are a variety of things the school could do to make commuting more economically accessible to students.
Some proposed solutions for student commuters are both Fastrack and public transit discounting daily fares for students.
Clemens said that the school is violating its own philosophy by not helping students more. “(They’re) actually going against our university statement of trying to be inclusive,” Clemens said. “It’s only for those who can afford the commute.”
SF State finally negotiated ‘“free,” meaning paid through student fees, MUNI for students.
President Wong has acknowledged that it is helpful to some students, but not all. “So the gator pass was a way to provide some cost relief to a large amount of students but we recognize that some students live in areas where Bart and muni doesn’t serve them well,” he said in an interview with the Editors of the Golden Gate Express. However, there were no solutions offered for those students who live outside of the reach of MUNI.
Discounting BART and Golden Gate Transit for students who commute can help them save hundreds of dollars a school year.
SF State should also find a way to radically decrease the cost of parking on campus. It currently costs student $8 a day for parking in the parking garage.
Ultimately, as Clemens said, “The university needs to make the decision about whether we’re going to be a commuter school or a residential school, and in that decision, put the resources where they need to be.”