Commuter enrollment increases due to COVID-19: University updates commuter students on their resources

The commuter population has increased at FSU due to the decline in residency because of COVID-19.

At the Nov. 18 Board of Trustees’ meeting, Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, said the total number of enrolled commuters is 2,659.

In a Dec. 7 email, Holloway said, “My last report to the Board of Trustees’ meeting stated we have 836 active commuter students. These are students who have one or more courses that have an in-person component.”

Holloway added this number keeps changing as more classes move online as the semester continues.

She said the 1,823 students who are not actively coming to campus and are only taking classes at home are still counted as “commuters.”

Holloway said there are 3,384 undergraduate students this semester.

The total commuter enrollment last spring was 1,339 commuters, and the total number of undergraduate students last spring was 2,962, said Holloway.

The number of resident students this semester is 725, according to Holloway. Last spring, the number of residents was 1,623, said Holloway.

Brad Medeiros, chief of the FSU Police Department, said though many are registered as commuters, the parking numbers and parking passes are down this semester since most classes are being held virtually.

The rise of enrolled commuter students this semester is requiring faculty members to provide extra information regarding parking updates, COVID-19 testing, dining, academic accommodations, and other resources to students who are actively commuting to campus.

Academic Accommodations

Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, said she sent an email at the beginning of the semester to inform commuter students about available spaces on campus to study or to take an online class.

In an email, Zimmerman said, “We have worked with Facilities to identify spaces to be open on campus for commuters to go sit and do their online class and to have more accommodations for them while on campus.”

She added, “I know some of you have been asking for places to study while you are on campus, or to take a class remotely, if you are a commuter and don’t have time to get back home for the class.”

The available study spaces are May Hall 112A, Hemenway Annex 327, Hemenway Annex 338, Library LM07, Library Reference Area, Dwight Hall 315, and McCarthy Center Forum, said Zimmerman.

She added those spaces are available for commuter students to use if they don’t want to be in the dining areas the whole time and if they want to be in a building near their in-person classes.

Anna Christiansen, a senior child and family studies major and commuter student, said, “Make space for everyone. Do what needs to be done for the students and teachers at FSU.”

She added, “I didn’t know that there were studying places for commuters. That would’ve been good to know. And I would definitely have used those spaces if I knew.”

Alissa Graves, a senior nutrition major and commuter student, said, “An option would be to have an area designated that was spread out with plastic, easy-to-clean chairs, and offer wipes to wipe down the chairs before and after use and then have it be cleaned frequently.”

Gabrielle Laurenzano, a senior marketing major and commuter student, said due to COVID-19 limiting spaces for commuters to go, the school should “try to open more classrooms where students can have their remote classes from.”

Hannah Mace, a sophomore  child and family studies major and commuter student, said she knew about the academic spaces for commuters.

Mace said, “This saves commuters from an extra trip home or to their vehicles between classes.”

Corrin Deleon, a senior commuter, said, “I know that there are specific study spaces for commuters.”

Rachel Spivey, a junior political science major and commuter student, said she was aware of the study spaces available on campus.

“When I heard that these spaces were available, I told my Peer Mentor students immediately. It is very thoughtful and worth it for those students who do not have a quiet place to go/unstable internet/noisy residence hall experiences,” said Spivey.

“However, I went to use one of the many spaces a few Sundays ago and none of the buildings were open, so it was disappointing to know that these spaces are not available to students on the weekends as well,” she added. “I find myself having more time to work on the weekends and with the library not opening until 4 p.m. on Sundays, being able to use those spaces is the next best option for me [to get] some work done on campus.”

Alisha Schofield, a senior communication arts major and commuter student, said, “I wasn’t aware there are study spaces. I also wasn’t aware I was registered as a commuter, either, but that makes sense given the situation.”

She said, “I was recently looking into going to the library during finals week so I’m glad I am registered as a commuter because I’m still able to use school resources.”

COVID-19 Testing

Ilene Hofrenning, director of health services, said commuter students have the same access to the health services as they did before COVID-19.

“They must follow the rules that everyone on campus is required to follow – social distancing and mask wearing and protocols for hand hygiene, ” said Hofrenning.

She added commuters are required to get tested and they are a part of the University’s weekly random sample.

Each commuter student is not tested on a “regular basis,” she said.

Hofrenning acknowledged, “Commuters do leave campus more and are exposed to people outside the FSU community, which could increase their risk of having the infection.

“However, most commuter students are taking only one in-person class, so their time on campus is limited and regulated. They are in class where masks are required and seats are 6 feet apart, so their risk of exposing someone on campus is less than a residential student,” said Hofrenning.

Hofrenning added residential students are being tested more because they are asked to “maintain that vigilance” 24/7, which can be difficult.

“Living in the residence halls, there are more opportunities for interaction and transmission of the virus, so that’s why we have focused on residential students a little more in general,” said Hofrenning.

If a student comes in contact with someone with COVID-19, the Health Center and Contact Tracing Support Team will reach out to them, according to Hofrenning.

She added the Health Center is also open and doing telehealth visits virtually.

Next semester, testing will increase with guidance from the state Department of Public Health. “We will be testing residential students every week and will increase our testing of commuter students as well,” said Hofrenning.

Child and family studies major Christiansen said, “I am aware of COVID-19 testing at school, but I have not been to campus at all this semester.”

Mariah Yoder, a senior fashion design and merchandising major and commuter student, said, “I have been tested once on campus, and once outside of campus, but that’s it.”

Child and family studies major Mace said, “I have been tested on campus, and the Health Center I feel is definitely a big help to commuters who need a quick and expense-free COVID-19 test.”

Political science major Spivey said, “I get tested on campus every week for my job as a student admissions representative through the Admissions Office, since I am still giving tours to prospective students up to three times a week.

“I love how easy it is, how it takes five minutes out of my day to do, and the peace of mind that I have in getting my results. It is even better that it is offered at no cost and I do not even have to go off campus somewhere else to get the test administered,” she added.

Spivey said the Health Center has done all they can for commuters and offering the COVID-19 tests for free is a “huge plus.”

Dining Accommodations

The Ram’s Den Grille has been open for take-out and for mobile ordering.

All orders must be placed through the mobile ordering app and all orders are packaged to go from 9:30 p.m. to closing time at 11:30 p.m.

There is no dine-in available for the Ram’s Den Grille from 9:30 p.m. to closing time at 11:30 p.m. as well.

Sandella’s is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and take-out is available.

Due to Gov. Charlie Baker’s new executive order, only walk-in orders are available after 9:30 p.m. for R.A.M.S. on the RUN purchases.

All other orders purchased after 9:30 p.m. must be placed through the mobile ordering app and will be packaged to go.

Fashion design and merchandising major Yoder said, “I don’t usually get food on campus, but if I did, I’d go to Dunkin’ or the Snack Bar.”

Nutrition major Graves said, “I do not eat on campus. Pre-COVID-19, I did not purchase a meal plan or really eat on campus because it seemed that a meal plan never fit what I would need.”

She added it would be helpful to have more common meals and options that would make students want to eat more and choose dining options more as well.

Child and family studies major Mace said, “Thankfully, the Dining Hall still offers dine-in and take-out options for commuters, as well as the Snack Bar and the Grille.”

Political science major Spivey said, “I personally do not have a meal plan through FSU. I cook all my meals at home! I felt as though I would not be on-campus often enough that I would need one, plus with all the new COVID-19 regulations surrounding dining, it did not seem to be worth it.”

Parking Updates

Chief Medeiros said commuters can park in Salem End Lot, Maynard Lot, and Maple Street Lot. 

However, next semester, Maple Street Lot will not be available to commuters, according to a Dec. 10 email from University Police.

“There is an overflow lot available at the Maple Street Athletic Field. However, with parking numbers down this semester, we have not seen much use of the overflow parking area,” said Medeiros.

“This semester, we have approximately 18% of classes meeting in person,” Medeiros added. “According to the vendor that handles parking permit processing, 335 commuter students have purchased parking permits.”

Parking this semester is going “smoothly,” and parking violations are down, Medeiros said.

Students had a range of opinions about whether the parking fee should have been reduced this year.

Alec Weeman, a sophomore criminology major and commuter student, said, “I should only be paying one-third of the price if I am there once a week.”

Marketing major Laurenzano said, “I don’t mind paying for parking this year.”

Nutrition major Graves said, “If I was going to school, I would understand paying for parking because I was using the space available on their property.”

Fashion design and merchandising major Yoder said, “I don’t think parking has been an issue.”

Child and family studies major Mace said, “Paying the full price for parking on campus when being there for only half the time than a normal semester of commuting I feel is a little unreasonable, but on the other hand, it can be seen that the parking is open for our convenience every day of the week throughout the 2020-21 school year.”

Yana Trubetskaya, a sophomore commuter, said she commutes to the University for dance practice only.

She added, “I only park my car when I come for dance, so I actually just park it in the visitor lot.”

Bridget Conceison, a freshman early childhood education major and commuter student, said she commutes only for dance as well.

She added, “I paid for a commuter student parking pass, but I don’t necessarily pay just for dance. I wanted to be able to go to campus whenever.”

Criminology major Weeman said commuting has been difficult even if it is only on Tuesdays this semester, due to traveling to campus while working and trying to study.

Child and family studies major Mace said, “This is my first year commuting, and I feel it is going very well and the professors on campus have been very flexible and understanding when it comes to any inconveniences such as traffic in my case.”

She added, “The good part of commuting, I would say, is you’re saving money and especially during this time, living at your own home is the safer option.

“As for the bad, I would say commuting does take a lot of time and flexibility trying to work around a class schedule and carving out time for the drive depending on where you live,” said Mace.

Child and families studies major Christiansen said, “Commuters should not be forgotten.”