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Two years ago, I paid about $1.50 a gallon for gas. This week, the local stations are mostly in the $4.25 range. And we’re a commuter school.

Admittedly, two years ago was a price trough; for the past several years, gasoline has mostly held in the $2.25 to $2.50 range. But even allowing for that, this is a substantial increase.

For context, my college isn’t residential, and it doesn’t have subway service. There is local bus service, but it only runs when and where it runs; even after we worked with the bus company on scheduling, for most students and employees, it isn’t a practical option. And due to its location in the county, the main campus really isn’t walkable from anywhere except a few very upscale neighborhoods, which isn’t where we tend to draw.

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If the price of gas stays this high for an extended period, I would expect to see more students opt for online classes. But that’s really not an option for a semester already in progress. At this point, short of dropping a class, students are pretty much committed into May.

Brookdale has the charming quirk of open parking, by which I mean it doesn’t have separate lots for faculty, staff and students. It’s all just parking, like at a mall. The downside of that is that my car has absorbed a few scratches and dings over the years. The upside is that I get a pretty good exercise in sociological fieldwork every time I walk to or from my car. I don’t see many late-model BMWs or Audis out there. Ten-year-old Corollas are well represented.

For students who are already struggling, and whose commutes may be a gallon each way, these costs add up quickly. Of course, gas isn’t the only thing getting more expensive, but for someone who has to get to campus for classes and who doesn’t live near a bus line, it’s essential.

I’m reasonably certain that other commuter colleges are facing the same issue. Has anyone found a reasonably elegant workaround for a semester already in progress? I’d hate to see students drop out because they couldn’t afford to drive to class.

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