Commuter students share pros and cons of not living ‘on the hill’


Most students at Franciscan University of Steubenville come from cities outside of the immediate Steubenville area. They are able to make themselves at home through the residence halls and household life, which is organized by the residence department. A much smaller percentage of students who have chosen to attend Franciscan for their higher education already call the Steubenville area home.

Zachariah Zdinak, a senior history and political science double major, said that he is living at home and receiving his education at very little cost. He said that his largest expense is textbooks.

His mother worked at the cashier desk in Starvaggi Hall, he said. As a result, he gets free tuition as a child of a faculty member, explained Zdinak, who is a commuter student, traveling about 15 minutes to the university to attend classes.

“It takes a while to get integrated so you come in here and you feel like you shouldn’t be here,” said Zdinak. “Like you’re invading, then you realize, yeah, it’s mine, too.”

Unlike Zdniak, many commuters take advantage of the Commuter Grant Program. The university website states that students who live in the area can have 50 percent of their tuition covered by a four year grant.

The only qualifications are to be a senior in high school living with their families within commuting distance and to register as a full-time student directly after high school graduation, according to the website.

While commuter students have the advantage of a cheaper education, they have the disadvantage of not feeling as connected to the community.

Harry Olenick, a junior history, secondary education and special education major from Weirton, West Virginia, also lives at home with his family. Olenick said that he recognized the university’s effort to bring commuters more into the community but concluded that it depended on the individual.

“(Franciscan) sends everything to the commuters, and they do it to the best of their ability,” said Olenick. “But commuters come for jobs or for classes, so when they are on campus, they are busy and not socializing. Even if the university did a big push to integrate the commuters, they still might not come just because they don’t know a lot of people or established a lot of friendships.”

Olenick has met people through his classes and the Chiron Student Advisory, an academic organization for education majors, in which he serves as co-president, he said. He also credits his fall 2014 abroad with Franciscan’s Austria program for giving him the opportunity to get to know more people.

Olenick said that he met more than 200 other students while in Austria and lived in the same building as them. They took the same classes, went on weekend trips as groups, and built a small community, he said.

“Before Austria, I didn’t know a whole lot of people, so I then I focused on school work and I didn’t just hang out on campus,” said Olenick. “Austria changed all that because in Austria you get to know them better. We made a point to hangout when we got back.”

Mary Anne Reed, a junior elementary education major, said that she attended Eastern Gateway Community College for a year with an undeclared major then transferred to Franciscan while she was still eligible for the Commuter Grant. Most students at Franciscan are Catholic; however, Reed is a Methodist. Yet she is not the first of her family to attend Franciscan, she said.

She has had many cousins attend Franciscan, but her great aunt, Helen Reed, was among the first students to attend the university when it was still Steubenville College, she said.

Reed said that Franciscan University was a mystery to her until she enrolled as a student. She was pleasantly surprised by the community and was eager to share her local knowledge with the people she met, she said.

“I love telling people about the area and fun things to do,” said Reed. “I do like that the university is on the hill. It’s a different world. It’s prettier. It’s refreshing.”

Zdnick, Olenick and Reed are not members of household. Reed said that she was approached by a female household to join, but commitment times were difficult for her to meet.

Zdnick said that he returned from Austria hoping to join Brothers of the Eternal Song after getting to know many of its members while abroad, but the commitments were difficult for him to make as well. Most household week day commitments begin at 9 p.m. after night classes or are an early 6:30 a.m. Mass. Commuters are usually home and settled at the end of a school day or still sleeping.

“It’s not so much that you don’t want to be here,” said Zdnick. “It’s the gas and the miles of coming back and forth that’s a toll.”

Olenick agreed saying it is difficult for commuters to get close to those they meet. He explained that many social gatherings on campus are not planned, but rather they happen as resident students meet in the dorms and the cafeteria.

It is tricky for commuters to join unless they are on campus and have a meal plan, which they are not required to have, he said.

“A lot of the times, people will invite me along saying, ‘Hey, wanna watch a movie or go to Dairy Queen with us?’ at that point I’m already home. I’ve eaten dinner. I’m doing homework. I’m not going to get dressed to drive over to hang out; it’s just not a possibility,” said Olenick.

There is a commuter student association whose mission is to bridge the gap between resident students and commuter students, but Zdnick, Olenick and Reed are not active members.

Overall, all three said they enjoy being commuters. They were unanimous in valuing more time spent with their families at home and making those relationships stronger as well as valuing more opportunities to transfer college credits from their local high schools.

However, there was one other complaint from Olenick, a complaint with which almost everybody in the Franciscan community with cars can agree.

He said, “They need more parking in the parking lots.”