What makes a commuter school?

**This thread was split from another thread. **
A related question is “Can students at commuter college still have a good social experience?”

That is certainly the case at many schools. There are schools like USC where it’s built into the culture that you get the heck off campus as soon as you can, and ones like Rice where the whole student body essentially lives in school housing for 4 years. What differentiates Utah from USC in large part is the inability for Utah to house all of the freshmen that want to stay on campus.

Would you consider University of Texas (18% live on campus) or University of Alabama (25% live on campus) to be “commuter schools”?

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“As a large commuter campus…”

The above is a quote of the out going President of the University of Utah Ruth v. Watkins from her press conference on Friday, November 2, 2018

I think that some confuse the concept of being a “commuter college” with school spirit.

The University of Utah as a member of the Pacific Athletic Conference does show a lot of school spirit.

My D’s college, UGA, has around 32% of students living on campus. I don’t know anyone who would call UGA a commuter school. It has a vibrant campus community both during the week and on weekends. Most students choose after freshman year to live off campus or in Greek housing. Commuter school indicates actually commuting to campus from far away. Any school where the majority of the student body lives near campus is simply not a commuter school. I think certain people are comparing residential campuses that offer 4 year housing to all with colleges where most live near campus and equating the latter with a commuter school. Not correct.


An example of an actual commuter-dominant four year school would be California State University Dominguez Hills, where only 14% of frosh (and 5% of all undergraduates) live in campus housing.

In general, the percentage of frosh living in campus housing is better proxy for residential students, since a common pattern at many colleges is that residential frosh live in the dorms, but move to nearby off-campus housing in later years.

However, at some colleges, there are off-campus dorms specifically marketed to college students (including frosh). This may result in the frosh living in campus housing percentage underestimating the percentage of students who are residential.

At a few colleges, the norm is for undergraduates to live in campus housing all years, reflected by high percentages of all undergraduates living in campus housing.

Many colleges do have a mix of residential and commuter students. These include state universities which have a substantial draw for both local area students and non-local students. Some examples are state flagship universities in large metro areas of their states (e.g. University of Hawaii Manoa), or non-flagship state universities that serve commuters in their local areas but also have some other attraction (e.g. strength in popular majors or location) that pulls in non-local students (e.g. San Jose State University).

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Students living at home = Commuters. The term ‘commuter campus’ was coined to represent large percentages of those students.
NOT to be confused by students who live in apts. around campus after freshman year. They are still part of the campus community.

I always ask what percentage of students live in campus housing as freshmen.


This is what I think about when I think of a commuter school. Essentially, it is a 4 year institution that functions much like a 2 year community college. Several CSUs fall into this category.

Utah does not in any way have that feel. There are lots of on campus things happening day and night. That said, teh factor I look at also is the percentage of part time students. It’s relatively high at The U, about 20%. It still feels like a “typical college experience” though.

Just FYI, this is not a U Utah specific thread. It’s a totally separate thread, so please feel free to comment on the topic at large “What makes a commuter school?”

You can probably make a typology of undergraduate students for the purpose of this question.

  1. Commuter students typically live where they lived before college, or where their residence location is chosen primary for reasons other than attending college. For those going to college immediately after high school, this typically means with their parents.
  2. Resident students typically live in housing chosen primarily for the purpose of attending college. For most colleges, the percentage of frosh living in campus housing is a reasonable proxy for resident students. There are several (not mutually exclusive) nuances to be aware of:
    a. Living in the campus frosh year only is a common situation at many colleges, particularly public colleges.
    b. Living in the campus housing all years is a common situation at a small number of colleges, although these colleges get a disproportionate amount of attention on these forums. These colleges will show a high percentage of all undergraduates living in campus housing.
    c. Transfer and non-traditional students are probably less likely to live in campus housing at many campuses.
    d. At some campuses, non-campus operated housing exists that is specifically marketed toward students, including frosh, so the percentage of frosh (or all undergraduates) living in campus housing may not include those students.
    e. Fraternity and sorority houses, cooperative houses, etc. may or may not be included in “campus housing”, due to differences in ownership of the buildings and the level of control the campus has over them.
    f. Some resident students may have what is called suitcase behavior, which is leaving campus for the weekend to spend time with family.
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No, Alabama is not a commuter school as 25% live on campus & Tuscaloosa is a college town. Additionally, well over half of all students (61%) are from out-of-state (non-residents) and are full time students.

University of Georgia is not a commuter school as about 34% live on campus and Athens is a college town (although not exclusively).

A classic case of a commuter school is UIC.

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College town doesn’t mean what you seem to think it does.

UIC has 33% of frosh living in campus housing, so it is probably about 2/3 commuter and 1/3 resident.

Some colleges that are less resident / more commuter (with percentages of frosh in campus housing):

0% Metropolitan State University
10% California State University Los Angeles
12% Northeastern Illinois University
15% University of North Texas
19% California State University Stanislaus
22% Florida Gulf Coast University

Some colleges that are commonly labeled as “commuter” but are mostly residential (although may have a higher level of “suitcase” behavior than other colleges):

83% Stony Brook University
78% University of California Irvine
70% University of California Riverside

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That many already? When I started working there it was, perhaps, 10% at most.

Looks like Metropolitan State University has 100% of frosh and all undergraduates living off campus or commuting: https://www.msudenver.edu/media/content/officeofinstitutionalresearch/documents/commondata/commondataset2019-2020/F-StudentLife2019-2020_v3.pdf

I think we have the ultimate commuter school here.