Cars. Many of us spend a great deal of our time in them. Most teenagers can’t wait until they can get their license and gain some independence; although a study conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute indicates that fewer teenagers now have licenses than 25 years ago. However, some surveys tell us that as many as 70% of college-age students own or have access to cars.
Cars have become a part of the fabric of our lives. But should they be part of the fabric of your college student’s life? The answer is — it depends.
You and your student should think carefully about whether your student should have a car on campus. Obviously, if your student is commuting to college whether or not to have a car may not be an issue. More and more colleges are prohibiting first-year students from bringing cars to school so this may not be a decision your student will face immediately.
Why won’t my student’s school allow cars for freshmen?
There are several reasons why many schools are telling their first-year students to leave their cars at home.
- One reason may be as simple as parking. As more and more students bring cars to campus, parking becomes a difficult issue. One solution is not to allow freshmen to bring cars. Since the freshman class is the largest class at most colleges, this reduces the number of cars significantly.
- However, there are other reasons that colleges may not allow cars for freshmen. For many students, the first year of college is a year of exploration — and of testing and defining limits. As students are testing this new freedom — and yes, that often involves drinking — at least they will not be getting behind the wheel of a car.
- Another limit new students often push is sleep. Students who are up late — whether it is studying, partying, or just socializing — may decide to head off campus during the wee hours — often in search of food. Tired drivers are more apt to have accidents.
- Colleges may also ask first year students to leave their cars at home to encourage those students to stay on campus and become more involved in campus life. Actively involved students are better students academically, are often happier students socially, and are often more satisfied students who remain at the institution. Students who head off campus for all of their activity or who head home several times a week, or every weekend, are not as involved on campus.
- Colleges recognize that having a car can provide a distraction from studying. Keeping students on campus may help them to stay focused on coursework.
So the college may tell your student to leave their car home during the first year.
What should we consider if having a car is an option?
Whether it is a decision that you and your student must make during the first year or during a later year, you may need to decide whether a car will be going to college with your student. The decision is certainly a personal one. Each family will have to consider different factors. Here are some things that you might consider as you discuss this with your student.
- Does your student need to take a car to campus as a means of getting back and forth from home? Are there any alternative means of transportation?
- Does your student need the car on campus in order to get to an off campus job or internship?
- Will the car serve as a distraction from studying or from on-campus activities?
- Is your student prepared for the costs of having a car — gas, repairs, registration, insurance, parking permit. Will they end up having to work, and take time away from studying and activities, simply to pay for the car?
- If your student owns a car, and chooses not to take it to school, can you take the car ”off road” and save on insurance money?
- How will your student feel if they are constantly asked to give friends rides because they have a car and they don’t?
- Will your student (or you) be comfortable loaning the car to their friends when they ask to borrow it – or will they be comfortable saying “no” to friends?
- Does your student always want to be the driver? Are they willing to always be the designated driver? Will they take that responsibility seriously?
- If your student gets parking tickets on campus, who will be responsible for paying for them?
- Are there any rules or expectations that you have about the use of the car? Are they clear to both of you?
For many students, leaving the car at home — for one year, two years, or all four years — is the right decision. They save money, have less responsibility, stay focused and get involved. For other students, having a car on campus may be important or necessary. The decision about whether or not to take a car to college should be one that is well considered and that you make together.
Are there alternatives to having a car on campus?
If your college student is considering whether or not to take a car to school, a good start is to investigate the alternatives available. There may be many.
Some schools are encouraging students to take public transportation when possible. Obviously, this is more easily done in urban settings, but there may be a bus or train near your student’s campus. Some schools offer discounts on monthly passes or run shuttles from nearby train stations or bus stops. Some schools may even work with transportation systems to arrange for a bus stop near the college.
More and more colleges are encouraging students (and faculty and staff members) to carpool to school. The school may have a program which helps students and staff members find others in their area who might want to share a ride, and many schools now offer prime, designated parking for carpool members.
Walking not only is a healthy alternative to driving (perhaps combating that dreaded ”freshman 15″), but it creates a greater sense of community on the campus as students see each other and spend more time getting around campus. Walking is also a great way to de-stress and to wake up for that early morning class.
Trolleys and Shuttles
Your student’s college may provide more options for traveling around the campus or for getting off campus. The school may run a shuttle to help students get from place to place. Many schools run frequent off-campus shuttles to local malls, restaurants, movie theaters, or area public transportation. As more and more schools restrict first year students from bringing cars, they are increasing the options for getting off campus.
Many schools have taken innovative approaches to encouraging students to use bikes as a means for getting around campus — or even off campus. Schools are creating more bike paths to encourage biking and to ensure safety of bikers. Schools are installing more bike racks. Some schools that have shuttles on campus have installed bike racks on the buses to allow students to carry their bikes with them. Some schools have installed lockers at various places around campus for bikers to store gear and have established on-campus repair facilities, or made arrangements for discounts at local bike shops. Some have established a bike registration program which works as a theft deterrent.
Some colleges have created bike-share or bike-loan programs. These programs have a fleet of bikes available on campus. Students register and reserve a bike and then are given a lock combination. They can borrow the bike — for an hour or a day or a week — and then return the bike to another designated location. Students can have access to a bike without owning one or having constant responsibility for one.
Some schools have even created a free-bike program to encourage students to leave their cars home. Students who sign up for the program and pledge to leave their cars at home are given a free bike — sometimes including helmet, lock and lights.
Public transportation, walking and biking are great alternatives to bringing a car to campus. But there are times when a student might need a car. Many students, however, do not need a car daily. Colleges and universities around the country, as well as the business sector, are recognizing that many people need a car only occasionally. Car-share programs are becoming increasingly popular. Several car-share programs, including Zipcar and Enterprise Car Rental, are working with colleges and universities to provide cars for students only when they need them. Zipcar alone is now established at over 400 schools. Such programs make cars available to students 24/7.
The principle of the car-share program is simple. Students must register for the program and must be 18 years old and have a driver’s license and credit card. Once the student is registered, they can go on line and reserve a car for any day or time. The student then goes to the designated area of campus with their membership card, holds the electronic card to a box on the windshield, and the car unlocks. The car key is available inside the car. The student is then free to use the car and return it to the same place or another designated drop off place. they then swipe the card and the car locks and is ready for the next user. The student’s previously submitted credit card is charged for the appropriate amount of time. Usage fees are generally between $8 and $10 per hour and include gas and insurance. This is a great option for a student who needs to get to an off campus store, an interview, an occasional off campus appointment, or who just wants to take a short off-campus outing.
Some car-share programs allow for pre-paid cards or gift certificates. Parents can even pre-pay a certain amount per month for the student to use. If the student goes over the allotted amount then they can pay the difference.
Colleges and universities around the country are working to make it easier for a student to leave their car at home. Obviously, some students will still need to have a car, but before automatically assuming that a car is necessary, students should consider the alternatives. The options are growing. Not having a car on campus can make a difference in the student’s health, environmental footprint, stress, and certainly the contents of their wallet.