Many College Students Are Commuters, Too

Article excerpt

Byline: Tara Malone

Debra Cromie knew what she wanted - and a dorm with a communal bathroom just wasn't it.

She wanted the academic rigor of a college education.

She wanted classes to prepare her to be a special education teacher.

But she wasn't about to surrender the comforts of her Mount Prospect bedroom and home-cooked meals to get them.

That Cromie would have to pay roughly $6,550 to live on campus and away from home further cemented her decision to stay there.

"Life is too good at home to leave," Cromie joked.

Now 20, Cromie begins her junior year at Elmhurst College as she's begun the two others: commuting from home.

Cromie joins the ranks of college students who pursue their studies without stepping foot inside a dorm or college cafeteria.

The rising cost of college, room and board - not to mention the price tag for all the things that go inside dorm rooms today - leads many teens to take a second look at staying home.

Suburban co-eds have an added incentive with dozens of colleges and universities within driving distance.

Consider this: Back-to-school spending for college students nationwide hit $36.6 billion in 2006, up 42 percent from 2004, the National Retail Federation reports.

The average freshman dropped $1,112 before heading off to college last fall.

Tuition prices, meanwhile, inched steadily higher. Attending a four-year private college costs, on average, $22,218 in 2006-07, according to the College Board.

Tuition climbed anywhere from 4.6 percent to 9.3 percent between 2005 and 2006 at Illinois' dozen publicly funded universities, the Illinois Board of Higher Education reports.

"There's definitely a price tag attached to it," said Roosevelt University's Gwen Kanelos, assistant vice president for enrollment services. "For some families, they may feel the whole residential room and board cost is beyond what they can afford. It's a choice."

Cultural traditions and family responsibilities also may factor into a student's decision.

To be clear, college commuters are not new. Nor are efforts to involve them on campus. But as attending college becomes a more pricey endeavor, students increasingly consider staying home and saving money.

Colleges, in turn, must respond to an increasingly diverse and demanding mix of students, officials said.

"We try to be very conscious of the fact we do have students in both venues," Kanelos said.

Roosevelt officials stagger programs and lectures to include students who may not make a second drive but may stick around to attend if it occurs at a convenient time. …