This project explores the ways that urban commuter college students constitute and use space for academic work. Higher education is almost universally portrayed through the experience of students at residential colleges and universities living on campuses well provided with dormitories, libraries, laboratories, and athletic facilities. But despite this outsized presence in the media, today’s college student is more likely to commute to classes. Community colleges—which typically lack residence halls—educate nearly half of all students in the United States, and many public four-year institutions also have substantial numbers of commuters. With growing urban populations worldwide, the urban commuter student is the future of undergraduate education.
To understand the college experience for students who commute, we undertook a study at the largest urban public university in the United States: the City University of New York (CUNY). Unlike residential undergraduates, commuter students must employ various strategies to find time and space just to be students: from scouting out book-filled, distraction-free libraries; to coping with the time and crowding of urban commuting; to negotiating with family over shared space and technology at home.
This website presents selected visual data from our ethnographic research with CUNY students in 2009-2011 at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), Bronx Community College, Brooklyn College, City College, Hunter College, and New York City College of Technology (City Tech). Students sketched maps of their daily routes, photographed items related to their academic lives, and drew representations of their research processes. These visualizations augment our publications on this research:
Digital Technology as Affordance and Barrier in Higher Education (2017) New York: Palgrave Macmillan
“I am more productive in the library because it’s quiet:” Commuter students in the college library (2015) College & Research Libraries
Serving the commuter college student in urban academic libraries (2015) Urban Library Journal
“I’m just really comfortable:” Learning at home, learning in libraries (2015) In the Library with the Lead Pipe
Commuter students using technology (2014) EDUCAUSE Review Online
About the Researchers
We are librarians and anthropologists, both faculty at CUNY; in our combined experience we have worked at large commuter colleges that primarily enroll traditionally underserved students for 30+ years. Anthropology helps us explore the academic culture of college students, including consideration of meaningful space for scholarly work and students’ lived experiences. Active librarianship, especially in our current and past roles as coordinators of library instruction, provides us with the opportunity to work with students across all majors and levels of the college experience.
Questions? Comments? Please get in touch! You may also be interested in our project website, on which we share our research protocols, conference presentations, and more: http://ushep.commons.gc.cuny.edu
Maura A. Smale
Chief Librarian and Professor
New York City College of Technology, CUNY
msmale AT citytech DOT cuny DOT edu
Professor & Associate Librarian for Information Services
Brooklyn College, CUNY
regalado AT brooklyn DOT cuny DOT edu
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.