Every morning, freshmen Morgan and Madison Williams make their way to Elon University. The twin sisters arrive at campus together, accompanied by one other person every day — their mother, who drops them off.
Both Morgan and Madison are daily commuters to Elon University. Though they initially decided to commute to save money, when the sisters found out that tution was set to increase by 9% next academic year, their wishes of eventually living on campus diminished.
“It’s honestly kind of hard for me to afford being here,” Morgan said. “I do try and keep my grades up so I can get scholarships and things like that, but it just makes me worry about what that will look like for me next year because I don't have any extra money.”
Beginning in the 2022-23 academic school year, Elon University will raise its tuition and fees, leaving some low-income students to live off-campus and commute to Elon every day. The total price, including room and board, to attend Elon next fall will be $56,127.
Students who commute next year will save $13,886 by not paying room and board costs.
“I don't live on campus, and I don't have a meal plan. I don't have any commuter plans. And I just commute back and forth,” Morgans said. “For getting food, I have to either get cash from my mom from time to time, or I have to pack lunch. And if I'm not able to pack lunch, or if I didn't bring anything with me that day, I have to wait until I get home. But I'm usually on campus all day, every day.”
The Williams sisters both live with their family at their home in Burlington. As commuters, they said it’s harder to find close-knit relationships with other members of the campus community. Due to the tuition increasing, Morgan said looking for friendships will continue to be a challenge for them since they will commute again next year.
“I'm not as close with certain people, because mostly everyone has the connection of living on campus,” Morgan said.
The sisters are curious to see how the university will offer them support because both of them already have student loans.
“I want to graduate from Elon. I don't want to have to potentially switch to any other school because I can't afford tuition. I love it here,” Morgan said.
But the Williams aren’t the only students commuting. According to Vice President for Enrollment Greg Zaiser, there are about 10 commuters per graduation class. Students who commute must be living with a family member.
Freshman Leslie Aviles Mendoza lived at home in Burlington with her family last semester while balancing a part time job to save money, but said the traveling back and forth each day caused her to experience burnout.
“I've gotten very depressed because of it. It's like thinking about working a lot of days over the summer and not having a social life per say,” Aviles Mendoza said.
This semester, Aviles Mendoza lives on campus and works at Longhorn Steakhouse in Burlington to help with financial issues. However, she said it’s possible she’ll have to go back to commuting next semester.
In a previous interview with Elon News Network, Patrick Murphy, director of financial aid, said that next year’s amount of financial aid available will be affected by the increase in tuition, and any additional funding will support part of the projected change in cost for students who receive need-based aid.
Aviles Mendoza is among the 15% of freshmen students with Elon University’s merit-based presidential scholarship award of $7,500 each academic year. She is also a communications fellow and receives a $5,500 scholarship each academic year.
Even with this financial aid, she said she still has to worry about covering more than half of the costs. Aviles Mendoza said she tries to relieve any money issues from her mom.
“I come from a single parent household and I don't like bothering her with the cost,” Aviles Mendoza said. “That's why I'm trying to work more days a week to be able to afford it.”
Aviles Mendoza said it’s likely that she will have to return to commuting next semester when tuition officially increases.
“Elon advertises a lot about how they care for low-income students, but with the tuition increase, it kind of shows that they don't,” Aviles Mendoza said. “I think it's like a slap in the face to low-income people.”