Commentary by Melinda Houttuin
I am currently a commuter student at Missouri Valley College. In the past couple of weeks, I have had to miss at least a day of class each week, not because I am lazy or because I do not care about my education, but more because the price of gas has me having to pull more shifts at work to make up for the $100 a week that I spend on gas to make my hour commute from Columbia to Marshall.
For myself and millions of other commuter students around the country, gassing up the car is turning into a costly part of getting an education. Some students say driving is becoming a deal-breaker when considering the pursuit of higher education, right up there with the price of textbooks and child care.
This spring, when deciding about commuting or living in Marshall came up, the prosperity of my job came into the picture, pushing me to live in Columbia because the experience I am receiving is worth more than anything I am learning in class. Unfortunately, in this economy, my paycheck barely covers my rent and food, which, at the moment, is mostly Ramen noodles because I am spending most of my money on gas so that I can finish my education. And while it is school policy to not miss more than three classes a semester I find myself having to miss at least a day a week just so I can work additional hours to make sure I am not starving. So, when did it become necessary to starve and go almost into a poverty state just so I can receive an education? Is eating Ramen and only getting five hours of sleep each night just so I can get enough money to drive my vehicle to class really worth the education I am receiving?
In today’s economy, I know I am not the only student who depends on commuting to receive an education that will allow me to make more money in the long run. How many other students are hurting to try and please an education system that is unaware of the sacrifices we are making just so we can attend class?
Carrie Palmer, a junior at Missouri Valley College, said, “It’s hard, I work part time, and some days right now it’s easier for me to miss class and miss work than to drive in.” The idea of even only having to drive from Sedalia to Marshall has Carrie contemplating whether her education is worth, not only the tuition costs, but gas, text books, and for some students child care. Do professors think that all we do is lay around and contemplate the idea of going to class or not? Do they realize most of us pull a 40-hour workweek, plus do homework, plus study, and on top of that attend class?
For me, a typical day is waking up at 3:30 a.m. to make it to work by 4. I work until 9:30 or 10, then I rush off to make it to my first class by one. After class, I return home by 4:30 where I begin working on homework or news stories for work. I am usually asleep by 9 so I can start my day over.
Mel Kelly, a senior at Missouri Valley College, commutes every day to class from her home off of 65. Her commute is not a long one but when her work is in Sedalia and her classes are in the complete opposite direction, commuting back and forth turns into a hassle. “I really want to graduate this year, but with gas prices rising, and paychecks remaining the same, how can I.” Mel now faces the challenge of missing classes to pick up more hours at work to pay for her classes or going broke trying to remain in school to get an education that will make her more money.
So, what do we commuter students do? We are stuck in a figurative pickle. Is our education worth the idea of becoming so broke or more in debt so that we can graduate broke and in debt to make money in an economy with jobs paying the bare minimum amount in your paycheck and the prospect of jobs looking grim? Or do we sacrifice attending class to get reported to the school because we choose not to become broke and work our butts off to pay for gas so that we can try to attend class the most that we can?
Jessica Blackburn, a sophomore at Missouri Valley College, said, “The commute, I have to say, is the main factor in everything that I do.” She said, “How many hours I work, what I’m buying, my extra purchases, what I do in on the weekend, what I do during the week.” Blackburn spends much of her time commuting from Slater where she lives to Marshall. “I can’t believe it’s getting so difficult for me to do something as simple as go to school,” she said. “I really want an education, but right now it’s not worth losing everything to get one.”