Addressing transportation barriers for low-income students and working adults is needed to improve college access and success
Last year, the Kresge Foundation brought together a small group of thought leaders, transit officials, and higher education leaders working on transportation and college access and success. These “pace setters” identified key transportation barriers as well as promising solutions that focused on the role of mass transit systems in helping students get to college from home and work – a critical issue for low-income students and working adults attending public 2-year and 4-year institutions. Recent data from the College Board underscores the significant costs of transportation for an average commuter student, which accounts for 18% of their total living expenses.
We produced a topical brief, Overcoming Transportation Barriers to Improve Postsecondary Success, that examines the nexus between transportation and higher education based on a review of research literature and publicly available reports, interviews from a convenience sample of professionals working on these issues, and ideas curated from a Roundtable hosted by the Kresge Foundation. The brief provides three key takeaways:
- 1. Colleges and Universities have been providing transportation solutions for students for at least two decades, including discounted or free transit passes, shuttle or vanpool programs, and more recently, partnerships with rideshare companies.
- 2. Although transportation barriers are widely believed to affect college access and success, there is very little evidence documenting the relationship between student retention and completion in college with the availability and utilization of transportation programs.
- 3. Transportation solutions must account for the capacity of public mass transit systems – namely the extent to which they are robust and far-reaching in a community.
Transportation barriers include cost and affordability; route frequencies and schedules; housing and work proximity; and, reliability and quality. To address these barriers, colleges and mass transit systems need to collaborate and cost-share in ways that benefit students. The good news is that such collaboration can yield increased ridership for public transportation and increased retention for colleges and universities, which can yield increased revenues for both.
There appears to be a preponderance of programmatic solutions to meet the transportation needs of low-income students and working adults – including the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority’s U-Pass program with 15 college and university partners; and the City Colleges of Chicago’s Ventra U-Pass program for full-time students. These programs have strong ridership, and there are anecdotal stories of how they benefit students; yet before policy solutions and private investments can be scaled, there is a need to build the evidence-base by documenting the impact of transportation solutions – especially discounted or free transit passes for student – on college retention and completion.
We stand ready to partner with LA Metro and City Colleges of Chicago – and with the Kresge Foundation – to help demonstrate the viability of these transit pass programs by conducting quasi-experimental and experimental studies of their impact. By focusing a demonstration and evaluation on public 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities in large urban environments, we can also shed light on how equity in college access and success can be further supported and achieved.
Derek V. Price