Higher Education Part 4: Pay to Park

Ok this ones an actual rant. As in: “I’m barely gonna try to make sense as if I do normally but whatever even punctuation is optional when you’re this irked by something”, kinda thing.

As if it wasn’t a little obvious, the subject this time is for-pay parking on college campuses. Specifically, the fact that students often have to pay fairly steep rates alongside their tuition if they actually wanna make it to class. Yes I know other places (like some workplaces) have paid parking too. This still bugs me.

How do you guys like going places in cars? It’s nice right? This big metal thingy with some spinny bits lets you go all over the place. Then you just find a nice spot to sit it down for a while and go about your business. Unless you’re a student at a four-year university. Then you’ve gotta either fork over some cash (it was ~$150 for an academic year, but has probably changed by now) or else give up driving yourself to class.

Ok, I get it. Space is at a premium and universities have a lot of expenses. Except why is it that those spaces are only monitored during the times when there are classes in session? After hours, any fool can come and use the campus parking for free. Effectively, it acts as a tax on students (and staff, but they get discounts) only, since few others are likely to want to park on-campus under normal circumstances.

Also, the pass doesn’t in any way guarantee you’ll be able to find an open space in the assigned lots. It only means you won’t be ticketed for parking there. In fact, I’ve overheard faculty members talking about how they know they’re overselling passes but are just going ahead and doing it anyway. Lovely. Oh, and if there’s an event open to the public, expect your parking pass to be overridden to allow parking for them instead.

And if you ask older students who went to the same schools when they were smaller, many will tell you the parking used to be free to students. That makes sense, they’re already paying for the tuition, why would they also need to pay an extra fee just to get there? Heck, even if they did, why not just allocate that across all the students and call parking a benefit? Then it looks like you’re doing something nice instead of squeezing a few extra dollars out of already stressed kids!

Yes I know that making parking expensive means fewer people will use it, making it more likely that those who do pay will actually be able to use the spaces, but the practice of (drastically) overselling passes kind of defeats that purpose. And it’s not like there’s actually a lack of parking spaces and multi-level garages on many campuses, they’ve just been assigned as “visitor parking” with hourly rates instead of annual/semester rates. I say why not just either sell lower priced passes for the garages or spread the cost across all enrolled and allow student “free” access to the garages? They could still sell high-priced passes for other lots and spaces which are especially convenient.

Considering that a lot of people going to college are very sensitive when it comes to unnecessary expenses, and as a result live a good distance off-campus where housing is cheaper, it doesn’t make sense to have zero free/no-extra-charge parking on campus. Buses are not a good substitute because… well basically just because public transportation sucks in the United States. In other countries I actually think this is both a sensible and reasonable option. In America though? lol no.

As with all of the previous posts I’ve made about higher education, the core of my objection to paid student parking is that universities are supposed to be about learning so you can get a better job. When artificial barriers like this are put up, it only serves to keep the least fortunate from being able to pull themselves up. In America, there’s a great deal of value put on the value of hard work and honesty, but either of those can only get you so far when the systems in place keep being modified to hold you down.

This is why it bothers me much that student parking is so pricy. I don’t mind paying for things. I don’t even mind high prices. My problem is that the whole point of school is to make people more productive. Society can afford to take a small loss on the front end to reap the benefits on the back end. College student earn more money, thus paying higher taxes. The state gets far more from them than the cost of a parking pass. This isn’t like having to pay to park and go to work or some event where you’re just trying to get some value for yourself. At school, the value you get also helps everyone else. Why should that be made more difficult?

Yup so I warned you this was gonna be an actual rant and then it is! This may well be the last part of this series for two main reasons:

  1. I’m running out of interesting subjects (still a couple left, but I don’t know that I wanna do them)
  2. I’m getting rant-ier as I go on, and I want to stop before I get too preachy

Thanks for reading! This is the fourth, and possibly final, (first part here, second part here, third part here) in a series of rants I’m doing about higher education in the US. Throughout the series, I have talked about the system of higher education, and the opportunities I see for improvement.

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