Lehigh requires all first- and second-year students to live in university housing each semester of the academic year they are enrolled.
According to Housing Services, however, there are certain exceptions to this rule, such as students who are married, living with their dependents, 22 years or older or residing with their legal guardian within a 30-mile radius from campus.
Exempt from this rule is Andy Chung, ‘24, who has commuted 15 minutes to campus every day since his first year at Lehigh.
Despite the close proximity, Chung describes his experience as “terrible” because he said he feels the university makes the commuter experience hard and treats commuters differently from other students.
Inclined to take action, Chung became president of the Lehigh Commuter Student Association with the mission of building a commuter community and creating more cohesion between commuters and the Lehigh community.
According to University Statistics, Lehigh is home to 5,624 undergraduate students, and the average cost for room and board is $16,470. Chung said he finds the main reason students commute is to avoid these costs, since commuter students are able to save money by living at home and reducing the amount of loans they may have to pay.
Brett Johnson, manager of parking services, said in an email there are currently 319 students with an active commuter permit.
Motivated by similar reasons as Chung, Jennah Abdelaziz, ‘24, is from Allentown and said her commute is about 30 minutes. She said it is cheaper to commute in the long run rather than pay to live on or off campus, and she loves to come home and help out her family.
Despite the benefits, Chung said there are many difficulties commuter students face while getting to school, especially when it comes to obtaining parking passes.
“(On-campus students) get more recognition,” Chung said. “Lehigh as a whole has not recognized commuters. I have barely heard any mention of them since orientation. Even the emails from parking services don’t mention us.”
Johnson said in an email this statement is not true. He said parking services’ annual email announcing permit sales for the academic year addresses off-campus residents and their permit options, as they know they are “just as important as any other student on campus.”
He said the department also sent a specialized email to the first-year commuter students and had an in-person meeting during orientation to discuss their options with them.
Their options, Johnson said, include either a permit valid in the Goodman commuter lot only or a permit including evening and weekend privileges.
“The option that includes evening and weekend privileges also includes the ability for students to park in any unreserved faculty/staff spaces from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Friday, and all day on Saturday and Sunday,” Johnson wrote in the email.
Chung said the commuter parking lot on Goodman Campus is inconvenient, as it is up the mountain and far away from the main campus.
Once someone parks there, they must ride the bus to return to academic buildings on the main campus, which Chung said makes the commuter journey more challenging.
Kevser Dayi, ‘24, said parking has always been a difficulty, as she has been commuting since her freshman year. In light of this, she said it made sense to start a commuter association that allowed commuters to voice their concerns and complaints about their collective experience at Lehigh.
Dayi said it seems more urgent for commuters to have parking spots, since commuters can’t walk back to their dorm or apartment after class. She said getting a permit from the parking services is a difficult process, involving many back-and-forth emails.
Johnson said students are able to log on to the parking portal and purchase one of two commuter permit options.
“It is a little exhausting, and I wish we had more guidance to navigate us through this,” Abdelaziz said. “I just wish there was a little more transparency with parking services about where we are eligible to park and figuring that out earlier on.”
Abdelaziz said the first meeting of the Commuter Student Association took place on April 13, which had a turnout of about 15 students. She said the executive board covered the expectations of the group, listened to commuters’ concerns and asked members for suggestions as to what steps they would like to see implemented at Lehigh.
A common concern voiced at the meeting was the impact of commuting on social life at Lehigh.
“Being a commuter is not an overall bad experience,” Abdelaziz said. “It is just a very difficult experience, but you learn how to eventually adjust to it.”
Abdelaziz said she would have to take the last Campus Connector bus, which leaves at 8 p.m., to return to Goodman Campus to her car and go home. She said this meant missing out on activities happening on campus, such as Lehigh After Dark events.
Dayi said she feels commuting affected her social life for the first two years, but now as a junior, all of her friends are off-campus, so it feels more normal to be a commuter. She said as a freshman and a sophomore, a student may lose their sense of community if they are unable to be on campus all of the time.
As a result of the first meeting, Chung said the Commuter Student Association organization narrowed its focus on several goals: reducing the price of commuter permits, reserving a seat at the undergraduate Student Senate for commuters, holding an orientation for upcoming commuters, forming a yearly survey designed for commuters, dividing all residential permits and increasing accessibility of authorized parking zones for students.
Chung said he hopes to hold events similar to Commuter Appreciation Week, which is an event held at some colleges and universities that offer giveaways and free food designed specifically for commuter students.
“Initially, before we started this organization, we, as a commuter group, felt like we were not represented,” Dayi said. “For example, there were always parking service emails going out designating certain permits to certain groups like off-campus and on-campus students. We were not recognized in that email— as in the word ‘commuters’ was not in that email— but we would have liked to have been recognized.”
After going through the process of creating the club, Dayi said she believes Lehigh has been more supportive and even approved the reopening of the commuters lounge, located in Trembley Park, that was previously closed due to lack of use.
Chung said he did not know who to contact when he had questions or sought advice, but now, with the presence of the association, he does.
“You really need some type of community or organization to help you, and that is why I started this organization,” Chung said.