Book by: J. Patrick Biddix (Ed.)
Review by: Melissa Irvin, Ed.D.
Director of Retention Services
Tennessee Technological University
The opening sentence of the editor’s notes makes it abundantly clear why higher education practitioners need to better understand the commuter student population: “…nearly 87% of undergraduate students enrolled in postsecondary institutions lived off campus during the 2011-2012 academic year” (p. 1). All institutional types within higher education are experiencing shifts to student demographics. The National Center for Education Statistics (2011) projected that enrollment of adults, ages 25-34, would increase by 21 percent between 2009 and 2021. Additionally NCES projected that underrepresented minorities, such as African Americans and Hispanics, would have substantial enrollment increases when compared to White Non-Hispanics (Hussar & Bailey, 2011). With the increasing focus on completion initiatives, institutions that can learn to better support growing key segments of the student population will be able to create larger improvements in their overall student outcomes.
This volume acts as an excellent guide for any student support services professional wishing to strategically consider and evaluate the role commuter students play on any campus. Despite the brevity of the text, there is a breadth of topics within the chapters that: explain the theoretical framework for understanding commuter student characteristics, identify barriers to commuter student success, recognize the diversity inherent within commuter student groups, and create institutional structures to support the needs of commuter students. One important aspect that contributes to the relevance of this work is the volume’s use of resources primarily published within the last twelve years; this helps to ensure the reader is given the most recent research on this subject.
Academic advisors will find the chapters that unpack the varying characteristics of commuters as well as the potential obstacles that commuter students might face very beneficial when considering the type of programming and support that would best benefit their students. Chapter 1 examines commuter student characteristics through the lens of several development theories that challenge the reader’s preconceived ideas of what it means to be a commuter. For example, some advisors may believe the decision to attend college is a seminal life event for any family. However “commuter students of traditional age…beginning college full-time while living at home, continuing to work at the job they held during high school, eating dinner with the family, and hanging out with high school friends may feel that they are not really experiencing a transition” (p. 5).
The most powerful resource for advising professionals in this volume is Chapter 9, written by NACADA past president Dr. Ruth Darling. This chapter frames the most effective mindset for advisors as they consider working with commuters as well as potential minefields that could weaken efforts to reach these students. The chapter includes suggestions for creating learning outcomes for advising commuters, using targeted academic planning techniques, and, most importantly, how to act as advocates at the institution to ensure commuters’ needs are being addressed and that they found a place in the larger campus community (pp. 93-94). The collection of work in this volume is an excellent resource for new and seasoned advisors from all institutional types to facilitate taking a closer look at commuter populations and discovering ways to better align institutional resources and policies with the needs and expectations of this ever-important student demographic.
Hussar, W.J., & Bailey, T.M. (2011). Projections of education statistics to 2020 (NCES 2011-026). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Understanding and addressing commuter student needs. (2015). Book by J. Patrick Biddix (Ed.). Review by Melissa Irvin, Ed.D. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 114 pp. Price $0.00. ISBN 978-1-1191-1519-9