By Sophia Turgeon, contributing writer.
Since March of 2020, COVID has impacted everybody at UMF drastically, including commuters. In fact, the effects of COVID have affected commuters very differently than it may have affected on-campus students.
After returning to campus in fall 2020, on-campus students had a lot of expectations including social distancing, wearing masks, sheltering in place, getting tested, and keeping social circles on campus small that consisted only of Farmington community members.
Commuters had guidelines that weren’t as strict, but may have suffered more in the grand scheme of things.
Tom Tubman, sophomore here at UMF, feels as though he hasn’t had the opportunity to build a community inside the UMF campus and feels detached as a whole. “It’s definitely made things a lot harder than I expected. Building a community has essentially been a non-starter since I live so far away from campus. Until this semester, I spent a majority of my time around campus hanging out in my car because my sister is immunocompromised,” Tubman said.
Luckily with COVID restrictions loosening up, Tubman has been feeling much safer. With that being said, Tubman’s 2021 fall semester has been a lot better than the previous semester. “Since so much of the campus population is vaccinated I feel much more comfortable being around on campus. I feel a lot more engrossed in my classes and overall have enjoyed college much more this year than I did last year,” Tubman said.
Morgan Rogers, junior at UMF, has had some similar experiences with commuting that Tubman had. “Between driving to campus for some classes, but not all, I’d say that there were some negative effects, mostly my connection and immersion in those classes,” Rogers said.
From a different standpoint, Rogers feels as though the COVID restrictions placed upon students this semester haven’t been as drastic, but is excited to be back in the classroom. “The restrictions haven’t been all that impactful, for me, apart from having in-person classes again. That has helped hold my interest and allowed for in depth studies while in class. An interesting side effect from the covid-restrictions was a better class experience when we had to limit the number of students in a class. That meant that a professor was able to have more thorough interactions with fewer students at a time,” Rogers noted.
Though UMF has handled the harsh reality of COVID to the best of their abilities, Tubman believes that the restrictions put on who is allowed to visit campus are not as flexible as he’d like. “I’ve got a few friends at Orono and they want to come visit UMF, but they haven’t been able to since they aren’t a UMF student,” Tubman said.
Rogers however, found that though the accommodations were understandable, he felt as though there should have been more communication on where commuters should go between classes while waiting. “I found that their accommodations were acceptable. However, one thing that I would have asked for was more clarity as to where commuting students could be when on campus but not in class. I didn’t know that we had a commuter lounge until part way through last semester,” Rogers said.
Hopefully as the school year progresses, restrictions will lessen and commuters will feel more welcome on campus.
By: Reese Remington, Contributing Writer.
Farmington, ME – Earlier this year, the announcement came that classes would return in person. This brought an influx of students back to campus, which also meant more students looking for housing. Despite students’ eagerness to live off-campus this year, it was going to be an uphill battle with Farmington’s small real estate pool and competitive market.
One student, Riley Bartell, a fifth-year senior, had a rough time finding housing around Farmington. He even considered living in neighboring towns. After searching all summer, he was only able to find an apartment in Livermore Falls but it fell through.
“There were over 500 applications for this apartment, but I never heard back about it,” Bartell said.
Thankfully, a couple of friends from the baseball team had a room available near campus. Now Bartell doesn’t have to commute to school for his last year.
Roommates, Bailey Blow and Julia Halley are first-time off-campus living students. Their experiences also had obstacles. Both Blow and Halley lived on campus last year and knew it was time to transition to an apartment this year.
“It’s been great. I like that we have roommate dinners – it’s like have a little family. It’s cute. The dining hall was a reason for moving off-campus, so it’s nice having a kitchen and cooking.” Halley said.
Living off-campus doesn’t come easily though. Planning is key to work with how competitive the market is. For Blow and Halley, finding an apartment took months in advance.
“Look early. It was really hard to find this place. Make sure you can financially do it, too because it is a really big commitment. We started looking over winter break (Dec. 2020) for this apartment because three and four bedrooms are a lot harder to find.” Blow said.
While residents in Farmington are calling it a housing crisis, realtor Byron Staples at Foothills Management isn’t as quick to call it that. He sees it as more of a competitive market right now due to a couple of factors. Two large issues that are contributing to the market are the lack of residents moving out of their current residence, and “outside people” coming in. Staples said about “two-thirds of apartments” that typically would go on the market during the season, didn’t.
Currently, there is a solar farm project in Farmington that began in July 2020. The project employed over 300 out-of-state employees all of whom took up any available housing in the area, whether it was hotels or residences.
However, the project should be slowing down by winter this year. With limited housing, it’s important to be sure and proactive while looking for housing, according to Staples.
“In this area, companies market June availability in Jan. and Feb. This means you have to be proactive. Don’t hesitate, and when a landlord reaches out, consider it as a job interview.” Staples said.
It would seem that the competitive market in Farmington may be opening up soon. Though with the pandemic still ongoing, it’s uncertain just how much will change.
For students looking to transition from on-campus to off-campus housing next year, being proactive during the process is key.
By Harley Davis, Contributing Writer
It’s a typical Monday morning as I begin my 40-minute drive to UMF, taking the winding and twisting back roads from my home in Oakland to Farmington. Spring has finally arrived and my drive, only a few weeks ago lined with snow banks and slippery roads, is now filled with potholes, warm air, and flocks of birds flying back to their summer homes.
I make this trip to Farmington five days a week, spending over six hours a week commuting to and from campus. The time spent driving equals about half the time I spend in classes at UMF per week. However I’m not the only student making a long drive to campus. According to the university website, while 86% of freshmen live on campus, 50% of UMF students choose to live off campus, whether it be within walking distance or driving to and from school. Nationally, 75% of college students choose to commute to campus instead of living in dorms, according to Complete College America.
According to UMF’s admission page, the cost for full time students to live on campus for one year is $9,334. This price, added to the cost of tuition is one of the main reasons I and other students choose to live off campus. Ashton Harvey, a junior at UMF, chose to commute to save money. “I did the math and my tuition would be cut in half,” Harvey said. “By living off campus I don’t have to have a meal plan, I work to pay my rent and that eliminates some of the overall cost of college and the amount of debt I have.”
While living off campus saves money, it comes with its challenges. Megan Rodrigue, a senior in elementary education, said that even living within walking distance to UMF has its drawbacks. “One thing that has bugged me about living off campus is that I miss out on stuff that is happening or going to happen on campus,” Rodrigue said, “Even though I don’t live on campus I’m still close enough that I would like to feel like I’m part of the university.”
Parking is an issue for all members of UMF, but can be especially frustrating for commuting students. “When UMF hosts events the parking lots commuters usually park in are reserved for the event,” Harvey said, “I spend so much time looking for a parking space that sometimes I am 15 minutes early but end up being late for class.” This issue becomes compounded in the winter, when eventually there is no more space to push all the snow. “Taking up four to ten parking spaces to pile up snow makes it that much harder to find a parking space,” said Harvey.
The Off Campus Commuter Council located in Student Center Room 109 is in place to help and support the commuting students of UMF. Every month the council offers free monthly breakfasts and lunches to students. Commuters are also given the option to rent a locker from the council so commuters don’t have to leave everything in their car during class. The council also helps students find accommodations to stay overnight on campus when the winter weather makes driving home nearly impossible.
As I pull into the commuter parking lot and happily claim the last available spot, I think about the time and money I spend each week driving to school. Is it easier to live on campus? Probably, but I wouldn’t be able to see the rolling fields of green grass in late spring dotted with black and white cows, or the fields of corn golden and shining in the fall, the views that make me thankful I go to college in a beautiful town in Maine.