Commuter campus vs. campus community

By By Parker Williams

By Parker Williams

For years, administrators have struggled to find ways to keep students on campus after class.

But no matter how many concerts, free movie screenings and other enticements are offered, some students still seem wary of spending more time than they have to on campus.

Some students have questioned why all of the efforts are being made to encourage extracurricular participation around campus — is the U’s being a commuter campus really a problem that needs to be changed?

Spencer Pearson, president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah, said there are both pros and cons to being a commuter campus.

“A commuter campus, in a lot of respects, is part of who we are, and we’re not trying to completely do away with that,” Pearson said.

Even though the majority of students opt to live off campus, Pearson hopes that the distance won’t keep people from getting involved at the U.

Besides enriching their college experience, Pearson said students who go the extra mile to get involved on campus reap many benefits, including new friends, a sense of community and better grades.

With plans for a multi-million dollar student life center now in the works, the battle to encourage students to stick around on campus continues.

Last spring, the Utah State Legislature gave the U approval to take out a $42 million bond to fund the center. The center will feature a swimming pool, recreation space for numerous sports, wellness services such as personal training and nutrition counseling, a student lounge, a wireless caf and study areas.

Students from the Union Building Programming Council are also trying to get students more involved on campus with activities such as Crimson Nights.

Held three times per semester, Crimson Nights repeatedly brings large numbers of students to campus. Last year, each Crimson Nights averaged 5,500 attendees. The most recent Crimson Nights, held in May, featured a “cruise around the world” where students experienced cultures and food from countries around the globe.

One of the greatest assets of a commuter campus is the diversity of students, said Kari Ellingson, the assistant vice president for student development and assessment.

A mixture of students who work, are parents and vary in age makes for a more “robust” class discussion, she said.

But this diversity creates challenges in getting students involved outside the classroom.

“Not everyone is going to want to do the same thing?and there are some students who really cannot fit one more thing into their lives,” Ellingson said. “We hope to make options attractive and diverse enough that most students will have something that they want here, even if they can’t do it because of time constraints.”

Even with a variety of ways to get involved around campus, some students just want to do their own thing.

Hao Wang, a senior in math and computer science, lives in the Residence Halls and spends much of his time on campus. But even though he doesn’t own a car and admits he “has nowhere to go,” Wang said he’s not interested in the activities provided on campus.

U administrators say reasons for student involvement go beyond building a rsum or creating a campus community.

“One of the best predictors of people staying in school and graduating is feeling a sense of connection with the university,” Ellingson said. “The more students connect, the better they do academically and the more likely they are to graduate.”

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