Think of every time you have slept through an 8 a.m. class. Think of every two minute shower, every roll-out-of-bed-and-run morning and every time you’ve hit the snooze button for that sweet gift of five more minutes in bed.
Now take all of this in your mind and put it two hours earlier. Think of adding a 30, 50 or even 90 minute drive to your morning routine. Think of adding another hour to make lunches and do chores and take kids to school.
Maybe 8 a.m. classes aren’t really that bad after all.
For some Maryville College students, this seeming nightmare is a typical day. Maryville College is considered a residential college. As such, students are required to live on campus unless they commute from home with their parents or are non-traditional students living with their families; however, approximately 30% of MC students live at home and commute to classes each day.
Commuting does afford students a few perks such as special parking closer to classes, lockers in Bartlett Hall and a student lounge above Isaacs. They also have access to all the other services on campus available to residential students, such as the health clinic, student mailboxes, campus clubs and events and computer labs, and can even purchase a meal plan. Savannah McCarter, a freshman commuter, is trying to revitalize the Commuter Club so that commuters will be able to have a place to meet other commuters and feel more connected to the college. There are also positions for commuters in the Student Government Association.
While some might think that being a commuter has a lot of perks, it also has its downside. Many commuters are non-traditional students who have children. They not only go to school but also work and take care of children after they attend classes each day.
Miriam Alvarez, an education major at MC, drives from the Gatlinburg area each day for class. After she is finished with her work, she must drive home and help her son with his homework and then take care of household chores.
“My husband helps a lot with [my son] and cooks every day,” Alvarez said. “It is exhausting. I only sleep five hours a day during the week and try to do six on the weekends.”
Many commuters have extremely good support systems in place that enable them to be able to work, raise a family and go to school.
Many commuters say it is hard to find places on campus to study. There is a commuter lounge on the third floor of Bartlett Hall, but it is usually very noisy because of the crowd at Isaacs or the many students coming in and out of the lounge. Kelly Wright, a senior languages and literature major, says there are few places that are quiet enough to study. Sometimes she even seeks solitude on the top floor of the chapel or in her car.
“Personally, I find it extremely hard to study in Thaw, even downstairs,” Wright said. “Sometimes I go to Fayerweather auditorium in the afternoon.”
One other issue that commuters find frustrating is the lack of study groups in the afternoon. Most are either during lunch or in the evening when commuters are usually at home.
On Nov. 5, Vandy Kemp, Dean of Students, held a luncheon for commuters. The meeting was to make sure that commuters knew of all the services available to them and also to find out if there were any concerns that commuters might have.
“We want to make sure that we hear what the obstacles are,” Kemp said. “What is making life really challenging?”
Dr. Tom Bogart, president of the college, was also present and spoke to the group. He said he felt an affiliation to commuters because he is a commuter as well.
“I’m a lifelong-learner,” said Bogart. “So, I claim to be a commuter student.”
Bogart stated that commuters are a very diverse and important group on campus, affirming that all the staff and faculty are accessible to commuters.
One big issue that was discussed was the price of meals in Pearsons. The cash price of a lunch at Pearsons is $8.50. That is a big concern for many commuters. Kemp informed the group that they can purchase Flex Dollars that will lower the price of the meal by 20%, making a lunch meal $6.80. In addition, any item purchased with Flex Dollars are tax-free so any purchase at Pearsons, Isaac’s, the Highland Grounds or the C-store will be discounted an additional 10% below cash prices.
Commuting to MC is a unique and challenging experience, and each student learns to handle the challenges differently. Sara French, a senior at MC and a single mother, says that she has had to learn to balance her life at home and school.
“I have to schedule my time strictly,” French said. “Sometimes I neglect sleeping.”
All students who commute must find that perfect blend of school and home life. It is a challenge, but with the support of their families, the gift of education is truly rewarding.