Columnist: Public transportation major roadblock in recruiting out-of-state students

From CMU-Life:

1244559607cmuWhile Central Michigan University attempts to extend its recruiting reach farther out-of-state, the biggest headache for the university could be getting students to campus when they do.

Senior Associate Director of Admissions Kevin Williams said his staff is now expanding its midwest recruiting and targeting, and beginning to recruit from states on the other end of the country including Florida, Texas and Seattle in response to declining enrollment.

When reaching out to these prospective students, Williams said transportation problems have become evident.

“The biggest comment I get from parents from out-of-state students is this: We think Central Michigan is a great school and a great institution, but how am I going to get my child there without buying them a car?” Williams said.

Busing companies like Greyhound and Indian Trails have limited services to Central and Northern Michigan because of the lack of traffic heading toward those areas of the state, said Denny Adams, director of public relations and marketing for the Isabella County Transportation Commission.

Students who arrive at the Metro Detroit Airport only have a few options. A Greyhound bus arrives at 12:10 p.m. where it proceeds to make stops in Southfield, Ann Arbor and Jackson before transferring passengers to another bus in Lansing. The bus arrives two hours later at 7:12 p.m. in Mount Pleasant.

If students miss the bus, they wait another day until the next bus arrives or rent a car.

Options for students arriving in Flint are just as limited.

University officials have started to meet with ICTC, Adams said, exploring options on how to expand public transportation in Mount Pleasant.

“In the case of international students, you couldn’t ask students to fly 16 hours from the other end of the earth and have to wait another 24 hours for the next bus,” Adams said. “That’s absurd.”

Students in larger cities, such as Kalamazoo and Lansing, have much greater access to transportation services than CMU students.

Without addressing transportation issues, Williams said the university will continue to face difficulties when recruiting out-of-state and international students.

“We have the opportunity and potential to be one of the most successful universities in the state,” Williams said. “But this needs to be addressed first.”

CMU has been on par with similar-sized universities when it comes to attracting out-of-state students. In 2012, CMU enrolled 1,359 out-of-state students, while Western Michigan University attracted 1,282, and Eastern Michigan University only brought in 557. Among universities recruiting international students, Central Michigan places towards the bottom. CMU enrolled 562 international students last year, while Western Michigan brought in 1,575. Eastern Michigan ranked below us with only 403 international students.

Initial steps towards solving the problem.

The office of international affairs hires students every year to pick up incoming international students at the Lansing airport, but Williams said such a solution would not be feasible as a university-wide initiative.

Sherry Knight, Associate Vice President of University Communications, said the University is beginning to specifically look into the availability of public transportation in and out of the state.

“(Transportation) is an issue, that’s why we are making gains. How do we bus service? How do we get train service?” Knight said. “There’s been some research this summer about how easy it is to get from Mount Pleasant to Lansing, and then catch a train to Chicago. There are more ways than what many students realize to catch those connectors to get where they want to go…depending on how early you get your tickets and know where you’re going to travel, it can be incredibly reasonable.”

Late in the spring semester, CMU forged a deal with Indian Trails to pick up students at the Event Center to transport them to Lansing, an increasingly popular airport destination for students because of it’s cheaper pricing. The trip that begins at 1:30, only takes 90 minutes to get to Lansing.

The deal was made after university officials witnessed students dragging their luggage through Broomfield and across S. Mission street to get picked up at the back of the Shell gas station, 1911 S Mission St.

More convenient arraignments for transporting students to Metro Detroit or Flint have yet to be established.

ICTC is also planning to expand their services out of county beginning this January. New routes, designed to transport medical patients to medical facilities in the Saginaw Bay region, will also be able to pick up students. The routes will transport passengers through Arenac, Gladwin, Roscommon, Clare, and Isabella counties, among others.

CMU aims to establish a charter bus station within the community, Williams said, but there is no timeline or specific budget

“We need to, as an institution, increase our accessibility,” Williams said. “We need a nice clean safe location. We have a responsibility of establishing a bus station in town.”