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Suitcase Schools

Most of us are familiar with the term “commuter school” which means a college or university, usually in a city, where many or most of their students live at home and commute.  A less familiar term is a “suitcase school” which describes a residential college or university that has a good number of students who go home on the weekends.

This article in the NY Times describes the suitcase school phenomenon and tells us that “a study by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles found that “39 percent of first-year students at less selective campuses said they had gone home frequently”, and that is easily accomplished because “52 percent of freshmen who attend four-year public colleges live within 50 miles of campus, the institute reports.”

Why do they go home? For familiar surroundings, for comfort food, so mom or dad will do the laundry. The article does feature one young woman who goes home on weekends for a job.

When students go home, it becomes accepted and leaves others feeling like they should too. Here the article quotes a former student “It’s like a reverse ‘Field of Dreams,’ ” says Samantha Desmond, a recent graduate of Seton Hall, a private university in New Jersey that draws 75 percent of its students from the state. “If you leave, everybody else will leave.”

There are often also complaints of “there is nothing to do on campus”. A while back, when I was on a panel with the Dean of Admissions from a college in Connecticut, she pointed out that she heard that complaint a lot. She said there were lots of things to do on campus, but some students didn’t know how to navigate the choices. They had grown up having their parents schedule all of their time and if someone didn’t hand them a list of specific things to do and when to do them, their perception was that there was nothing to do.

The article also points out that there is no stigma attached to going home and that many parents are happy to have their children come back and very willing to accommodate them with laundry services and home cooked meals.

This is not good news for the colleges or the students. I have been told by college administrators that if students become involved in something on campus the first year, they are more likely to be successful students and graduate on time.

Most colleges provide a lot in the way of activities and try to keep their students on campus through the weekend. However, ultimately it is up to those students to stay and fully make the transition to residential college life. Maybe this is a conversation that needs to be had between parents and student if the student will be attending college close to home.

Janet Rosier