UWO looks to improve commuter experience


Kelly Hueckman / Advance-Titan – Mikayla Morrell finishes homework in the commuter lounge, located on the first floor of Reeve Memorial Union in room 102C.

Kelly Hueckman, Managing Editor

UW Oshkosh commuting students face additional challenges compared to residential students that can decrease their involvement and success, UWO staff and students said, although they are looking to improve the overall experience.

“Commuter students have many challenges, including family obligations, personal relationships, work, time management and acclimating to the university,” UWO Center for Academic Resources Director Jessica Spanbauer said. 

Currently, there are 12,978 students living off campus of the 15,209 students enrolled at UWO during the 2022-23 academic year, according to UWO open records. This year, the number of students living in campus resident housing is the lowest it’s been in the past six academic years.

Meanwhile, the percentage of first-year students who commute to UWO has increased from 10.6% in 2018 to 15.3% in Fall 2022, according to Spanbauer, who wrote a research paper on the topic last summer. The percentage spiked to 23.6% in 2020, but never dipped below the 2018 percentage of 10.6%.

In her study, she found that although commuting students make up a significant portion of UWO, they have historically fallen behind in their academic career.

“Our first-year commuter students are lagging behind in both retention and graduation rates compared to their residential peers,” Spanbauer said. “They also earn fewer credits and have a lower overall cumulative grade point average compared to their residential peers.”

On top of their tendency to trail behind their peers in academia, commuters are also shown to be less involved in university activities and other extracurricular offerings, she said.

“These students are also less likely to be involved on campus because they live and work off campus,” Spanbauer said. “Lower levels of campus involvement can lead to disengagement and a decreased sense of belonging.” 

One reason commuters can feel disconnected from UWO is conflicting time schedules, UWO commuter student Luiza Nelson said.

“Most events happen at night, and most commuter students cannot wait around from the end of class to the start of the events, which can take hours,” she said.

New Student and Family Programs specialist Emily Brooke said that when talking with students, she received comments that university events were also not as relevant to commuter students as to other students.

“When I had Titan Welcome last fall, a lot of feedback that I got from students, primarily non-traditional and commuter students, was that there were not a lot of specific events that pertained to them,” Brooke said.

Brooke also took part in hosting a commuting student panel in January to encourage conversation and questions about navigating college as a commuter student. 

She said that many first-year commuter students had questions about basic day-to-day functions on campus.

“A lot of questions were about ‘Where do I park? Where do I eat? Where do I just exist in these spaces?’” she said.

Second year  commuting student Sophia Runge said difficulty finding a parking space is one of her main daily concerns, a common complaint from commuting students.

“Being a commuter student is not the most convenient,” Runge said. “I would say parking is a big issue when it comes to driving to college; there’s not enough space for the passes the school gives out.”

Currently, there are 2,760 parking spaces available to commuting students, residential students, faculty and staff, according to the UWO Police Department. A parking lot with 74 spaces is allotted for commuting students only.

The total number of parking spaces commuters are allowed to park in is less than 25% of the population of UWO students living off campus. 

More introductory resources, especially concerning parking, to first-year commuting students would have been helpful, Runge said.

“I think it would be helpful if UWO had videos for incoming commuter students on how to navigate campus and which parking lots are best for certain buildings,” she said. “I had to learn that on my own and it took me a little bit to figure out.”

Brooke said that because incoming commuting students tend to have difficulty navigating campus and finding events that pertain to them, they can struggle making connections at school.

“The big point is getting involved because you don’t have that natural connection,” she said. “You kind of have to make a more intentional effort to seek out communities like getting an on-campus job or getting involved in a club.” 

To encourage student involvement, New Student and Family Programs and commuting students have discussed creating an organization for UWO commuters, Brooke said.

“Currently, there is no commuter student organization,” she said. “There was, many years ago, but it dissolved over time. That is something that people are interested in reviving to have a specific space or club that commuters can connect in.”

Spanbauer said that after gathering commuter student data, she and New Student and Family Programs are currently fleshing out different strategies to increase these students’ involvement and success.

“I knew that in general, commuter students struggled with their connection to campus,” she said. “However, seeing the data of our first-year commuter students made me realize that something more needs to be done to support these students.”

Some strategies include identifying first-year commuting students to maximize outreach efforts, including a specialized portion in Titan Takeoff for commuters and implementing a summer bridge program geared directly toward these students.

Brooke said reaching out to commuting students and giving them more relevant resources is a priority for Spanbauer and New Student and Family Programs.

“We’re really trying to adapt our programs to cater to commuter students,” she said. “What’s being offered is really hard for them because a lot of commuter students are on the road or have a job to get to, so we are trying to be more intentional about meeting that population’s needs.”