Mendenhall: Commuter Student Priority Negatively Impacts On-Campus Student Housing


David Chenoweth

Packed parking lot at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022 (Photo by David Chenoweth | The Daily Utah Chronicle

By Addison Mendenhall


The University of Utah campus encompasses 1,534 acres of Salt Lake City and is also one of Utah’s commuter schools. A commuter school is a university that focuses more on teaching and classes rather than more traditional campus activities. As a result, the majority of students that attend a commuter school live off campus. Because only 12% of its students live on campus, the U tends to accommodate commuter students in several different areas, including special parking permits, short term parking and various shuttle services.

The U needs to strike a balance between all students, regardless of their living situation. Living conditions for on-campus students have drastically declined as commuter students take priority. Because of this, the U desperately needs to focus on improving the on-campus housing experience.

As a U student, I have lived both on and off campus. I lived in the Sage Point residence halls throughout the 2020-21 school year and experienced many of the benefits of living on campus. I was close to my in-person classes and the U’s various sporting events. However, several unfortunate situations in my building dulled the sparkle of living on campus.

For starters, it was extremely difficult to find a suitable housing situation. My suite at Sage Point had no kitchen and required a meal plan. At the end of the semester, I scrambled to use all of my meals and dining dollars. Housing options were also extremely limited. I had to pick between Heritage Commons and Kahlert Village, a new community built in 2020. I had a hard time securing Kahlert’s brand new rooms, so I settled with Sage Point.

Unfortunately, I did not have a great experience living at Sage Point. The parking situation was comical. The building also experienced constant utilities issues that never got resolved in a timely manner. Maintenance requests were ignored for a week. The hot water only worked about 50% of the time, and when it did work, it was incredibly dirty. While I had family that lived close to campus so that I could take a warm, clean shower, out-of-state students weren’t as lucky.

88% of students at the U take advantage of living off campus. Andrew Scarborough, a student studying parks, recreation and tourism, told me about his experience. He has attended the U for the last two semesters, and has lived at home the entire time. He commutes anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes a few times a week. In his interview, he said, “I wish I lived on campus, just to get the college feel. The problem for me is that it’s just a little bit too expensive. And then also, with COVID-19, that’s affected a lot of why I choose not to. Because I feel like I wouldn’t really be getting the real college experience.”

Andrew and I both share the same concern. I also can greatly relate to his hesitations that he shared about working too much while in school. Andrew currently has two jobs, and works about 35 hours a week on average between them. With going to school full-time, he has a tight schedule. For it to be worth living off campus, he said that he’d cut his work hours in half to have time to “check out facilities, explore and participate in different events.” Several students here at the U likely feel the same way. It’s hard to afford housing while working minimally to get the best experience possible. And for the cost of living at the U, I would fully expect that there would be minimal maintenance problems.

The U needs to address several items to increase the value of living on-campus but first, they must address maintenance requests in a timely manner. Students shouldn’t need to go without hot or clean water for extended periods of time. Out-of-state students shouldn’t be told to “wait it out.” Like others have expressed, they must also better address parking issues. Construction often greatly hinders the already-limited parking spots that resident students can park in.

Lastly, the U must improve the general communication between students and Housing and Residential Education (HRE). From personal experience, it takes days to reach somebody about any concern. Even going through a Resident Advisor can delay the process immensely. The U needs to prioritize the wellbeing of their on-campus population, or it will continue to decline.

Instead of allowing for constructive feedback for on-campus housing, the U has swept these complaints under the rug. This is certainly not progressive, particularly for a campus that seems adaptable and regularly asks for feedback. Instead of rolling out new programs and upgrades to new spaces, the U must give the same attention to run-down areas that greatly impact students’ experiences.


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