Are community colleges accessible enough for students without a car? This is a problem, says the national group

Nearly a third of Pennsylvania’s 118 community college and technical school campuses are not within walking distance of a public transit stop, which could pose a problem for students without cars or with car problems, according to a new study from a Washington, DC- nonprofit.

“Our students are one flat tire away from dropping out of school,” said Abigail Seldin, CEO of the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation. “Conversely, they can be a cohesive, well-designed and affordable bus route upon completion.”

His organization, which released a national report on the subject last year, creates detailed maps for each state showing proximity to transit stops for each community and tech campus, including branches and satellites. The group released maps for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware to The Inquirer last week.

New Jersey Fares much better than Pennsylvania. Only 7% of its 46 community and technical college campuses are not within walking distance of a transit stop, defined as less than half a mile. In Delaware, its three campuses are within walking distance. In the Philadelphia area, most campuses have a stop nearby, but there are exceptions, such as Montgomery County Community College’s Culinary Arts Institute in Lansdale and Bucks County Community College’s Perkasie Campus, the data shows.

Montgomery County college spokeswoman Diane VanDyke said the institute will be leave Lansdale and move to its Blue Bell campus over the next year where there is access to public transportation. SEPTA operates two bus routes to the Blue Bell campus, while its Pottstown campus is served by SEPTA and Pottstown Area Rapid Transit, she said. The college also offers a free shuttle service between Pottstown and Blue Bell. Bike paths are also close to both, she said.

But even campuses with nearby stops can face challenges, Seldin said. His group’s analysis does not take into account transit frequency or schedules, availability of transit stops in student neighborhoods, or cost, which could create additional barriers for students. Annual commuting for community college students averages about $1,840, Seldin said.

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“Everyone has work to do,” said Seldin, a 2009 University of Pennsylvania graduate and Rhodes Scholar who co-authored the report with Ellie Bruecker and Matthew Crespi.

The group’s work offers a starting point for examining what its authors see as a critical issue: ensuring students can get to campus. She hopes this will spur the conversation about accessibility, noting that community college students often come from low-income homes and 99% live off-campus, with many of them working and/or parenting and strapped for time. .

“What we hope is that through this work we can provide examples in places where it works,” she said. “And that in places where these services are not yet available, the availability of data will galvanize action, and we are already seeing that.”

Last year, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers, including Rep. Conor Lamb, a Democrat, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican, and Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat, proposed legislation to make it easier to transport students on the basis of the Seldin Group’s initial report. , which did not include secondary campuses and their satellites. The bill would offer competitive grants to add transit stops near campuses, increase frequency and provide financial support for students. The bill passed the House twice but failed to gain traction in the Senate, although supporters plan to push it back next year.

“The PATH to College Act would make it easier for students at community colleges and minority-serving facilities to take public transportation to campus, removing a major barrier to higher education,” Casey said. in a press release. “I will continue to push for Senate Republicans to also support this bill so that we can get it across the finish line.”

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The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges has recognized transportation as an issue and said its schools are working on it.

“Lack of reliable personal or public transportation is one of many non-academic barriers that impact community college student enrollment and completion,” said Elizabeth A. Bolden, its president and chief executive officer. direction. “Community colleges are continually looking to improve access, in this case by working with local transportation organizations to negotiate free and discounted rides for students. Many also run college aid programs through which students can access subsidized bus passes or apply for emergency financial aid in the form of gas cards and other transportation-related assistance. .

At Montgomery County College, VanDyke said transportation was not raised as a barrier, but college officials are ready to help students connect with any support needed.

Delaware County Community College also said transportation was not raised by students as an issue. Its Delaware County campuses and its Exton campus in Chester County have access to public transportation, while its Downingtown location and Pennocks Bridge Center in West Grove do not. Spokesman Anthony Twyman said students getting off at Downingtown station must find a way to get to campus. Students must drive to the Pennocks campus, which is in the middle of farmland, he said.

In 2020, the college began offering free shuttle service between its Delaware County campuses and it provides students in need with SEPTA Key cards and Uber rides, he said.

The Community College of Philadelphia benefits from Philadelphia’s extensive public transportation network. The college surveyed students who were enrolled in spring 2021 but did not return in fall 2021, asking why, and found transportation ranked near the bottom of the list, spokeswoman Megan said. Lello.

In New Jersey, Camden County College’s four campuses are all well served by public transportation, said its president, Lovell Pugh-Bassett, who added that students have not raised transportation as a barrier. The college also offers a shuttle service between its main campus in Blackwood and Camden City, and Camden City offers a shuttle that transports students to and from their quarters, she said.

The college is also considering developing a partnership with Uber or Lyft so students can get discounted rides, she said.

“Maybe the students need a ride from work,” she said. “Maybe they got dropped off at work and have to go to class or go home.”

Public transport is not the solution for all campuses. Rural campuses with no access for more than five miles at least provide students with access to education, Seldin said. But students aren’t allowed to use federal aid to buy a car when that might be what they need for reliable access, she said.

An extension of public transport could be an answer elsewhere. In Pennsylvania, his group found that while 65% of campuses are within walking distance of a transit stop, an additional 22% are within five miles but not connected.

“We see a lot of opportunities,” Seldin said.

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