A survey of Michigan’s community colleges found that most do not have public transportation within walking distance.
According to research by the Civic Mapping Initiative, 44% of the state’s schools do not have a bus stop or other transit option within 4.5 miles.
“If we want students to be able to get to school to get workforce training, they have to be able to actually set foot on the campus in many cases, and there’s not a better time for folks to come together to really work on this,” says Abigail Seldin, co-founder of the Civic Mapping Initiative, who conducted the survey.
According to the research, more than a third of U.S. college students attend a community college. The Civic Mapping Initiatives claims by extending bus lines or making other route adjustments, an additional 25%of community colleges could become accessible by public transit.
Non-profit leaders in Detroit say the research confirms what many have known for years.
“We found that for many low-income students, transit is one of the biggest barriers to actually going to college. It’s literally getting there,” says Bill Moses, managing director for the Kresge Foundation’s Education Program. “They seem maybe trivial, but it’s often small things that are preventing students from actually getting that degree.”
The following interview was edited for clarity.
Eli Newman, WDET News: What is the Civic Mapping Initiative?
Abigail Seldin: The Civic Mapping Initiative is a non-profit effort to map the proximity of public services to public transit stops. Essentially we’re looking at this question of accessibility.
You’ve looked nationally on this issue, but as you’re sitting here at Marygrove College, you’re talking about Michigan. What can you tell us about how the state fares in this conversation about community colleges and access to transportation?
We’ve been undertaking a 50-state plus the District of Columbia scan to deep dive to find out which community and technical college campuses have a public transit stop within walking distance, and which ones are still waiting for the bus, if you’ll forgive the pun. So in Michigan, 44% of the of the state’s 87 community and technical college campuses have a stop within walking distance. Now that’s not necessarily a proxy for accessibility, right? Access requires affordable fares, routes that work, stops where you want to go. But it’s a point of departure to discuss accessibility.
Just to frame it another way, we’re talking about less than half of our (Michigan) commute community colleges have just a stop within walking distance, and we’re not even necessarily talking about bus schedules or anything like that.
That’s exactly right. There’s a particular opportunity, though, that I think is really special, which is that there’s 11 campuses that are less than five miles from an existing transit stop but not yet connected. So these campuses are in areas that are currently being served by public transit. There’s routes nearby, usually buses, and so it’s almost last mile funding to connect them to the college.
When we’re looking at these community colleges, are there particular areas that are worse offenders in terms of having this kind of access? Is there an urban/rural divide with this?
I would say Michigan is not dissimilar from what we’re seeing in the national picture, which is that the opportunities to expand are genuinely everywhere across the state. Because anecdotally, at least what we can see, where there is strong transit solutions for students, it’s because there’s a relationship between the community college campus and the local transit authority.
It’s almost then a call for the strengthening of these kinds of ties between public institutions.
That’s exactly right. This, at its core, is a community project. And it’s a community opportunity that couldn’t come at a better time. Right now there’s tremendous recovery dollars around. There’s a focus on workforce attainment, and connectivity and public transit investment. If we want students to be able to get to school to get workforce training, they have to be able to actually set foot on the campus in many cases, and there’s not a better time for folks to come together to really work on this.
So just in terms of a call to action, is there a particular message that you want to say for policymakers in the state of Michigan regarding this issue?
I think the first thing is incredibly basic, which is picking up the phone to reach out to the local transit authority to flag this as a concern as an area to collaborate. This also isn’t a place where a transit agency can act in a vacuum without partners. Each campus has its own schedules — some have night classes, some have weekend classes. Genuinely coming up with a transit solution for campus and its students will require strong collaboration. And so this is the kind of project that starts with an open door with an open conversation.