When Akia Calhoun started commuting to Colorado State University-Pueblo from Colorado Springs in 2005, gas was around $2 per gallon. At the time, Calhoun was living in subsidized housing, and with financial aid she could afford to put a little extra money into her gas tank.
Now, with gas at $3.50-plus a gallon, Calhoun feels the crunch. A round trip is roughly 100 miles, and the 20-year-old uses a quarter-tank of gas each time she commutes five days a week.
She's hardly alone. Of the 4,000-plus undergraduates enrolled at CSU-Pueblo in fall 2002, about 440 had El Paso County addresses. By fall 2007, that number was up to around 750. Faculty members, of course, also commute.
Which begs the question: With a major university, a private college and trade schools in the Springs, why are so many students driving to Pueblo?
For Calhoun, a political science major, the decision was personal and practical. Even though the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs had the classes she needed, its higher tuition rates (UCCS' in-state tuition for freshmen and sophomores is $3,059 for 12 credit hours; CSU-Pueblo's estimate is $2,334 for 15 credit hours), parking costs and higher student-teacher ratio deterred Calhoun. The CSU system's academic rating was the clincher.
"Why would you want to go to a huge school where you'll barely get one-on-one attention, one that doesn't rate as high academically and you have to pay more?" Calhoun asks.
Even now, with her budget stretched, Calhoun won't transfer. She's looking at apartments in Pueblo.
(CSU-Pueblo has three satellite campuses in Colorado Springs, but classes are limited to lower-division general education, or focus on select degrees.)
For Megan Oldham, commuting to Pueblo was the lesser of two evils. Oldham, now 22, had been halfway through her B.A. in English with a secondary teaching endorsement at CSU in Fort Collins, but moved to the Springs after her wedding last summer. Attending UCCS would have set her back 2 years, she says, because its program didn't correlate with CSU's. Commuting to Pueblo was the most efficient and timely way to finish her degree.
Oldham, a senior, says she's "sucking it up," but like other commuters, she's frustrated by CSU-Pueblo's services. Besides meal plans, Student Life and Auxiliary Services offer commuters a separate lounge, and make bulletin boards available to all students. But there is a limit to how many non-campus postings like carpool requests can be made, and few seem to know about the lounge.
This year's student body likely will cast such issues in sharper relief; the Pueblo Chieftain reported in July that CSU-Pueblo's new-student enrollment is around 1,300, compared to 841 last year.
Calls and e-mails to the dean of student life were directed to administrative assistant Jeanne Stewart. She says she'd like to see a bulletin board solely for commuters, so students could arrange rides, but isn't sure whether Student Life or Auxiliary Services would arrange that. Calls to other campus departments were redirected or ignored.
Campus politics aside, a commuting network is something Calhoun says needs to happen.
"If people were to rally together and say, "We want something for commuters,' the school would do it," she says. "That's one of the things I like about CSU-Pueblo if enough people rally together, [the school] will change and do what's needed."
Indy contributor Amanda Lundgren is also a student at CSU-Pueblo.