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UCLA commuters struggle with scheduling without option of priority enrollment

(Cody Wilson/Daily Bruin)

By Sandra Wenceslao

Jan. 29, 2019 10:44 p.m.

Enrollment appointments are out. So now it’s time for students to obsess over what classes they can take to sleep in a little bit longer.

Staying in bed isn’t really an option for commuter students.

Enrollment appointment assignments are based on the number of units students have. The higher the unit count, the sooner the enrollment time. But there are exceptions to the system: Priority enrollment is an additional enrollment time available prior to students’ first pass. It is only available to select groups, such as NCAA athletes and Regent Scholars.

It appears commuter students are not a priority.

While commuting may seem appealing to those students who struggle with the financial aspects of dorming or living close to campus, it isn’t as easy as getting in the car and driving. Students have to wake up earlier than their peers just to sit in two-hour traffic, rushing only to arrive early and get lost in the parking structures while looking for an empty spot.

Commuter students face many of the same enrollment problems as the rest of the student body. But they also struggle with fitting education into their everyday commutes. It’s about time UCLA started considering commuters as eligible for priority enrollment, given their immensely constricted schedules.

Patricia Turner, dean and vice provost for UCLA’s division of undergraduate education, said the last time priority enrollment was discussed was in 2009, when groups were taken off the priority enrollment list. Those groups included the Academic Advancement Program, General Education clusters and ROTC.

“The reason that it was looked at in 2009 was that several other groups successfully lobbied for and (received priority enrollment), but there were so many other groups that had it,” she said. “It wasn’t really working.”

And yet, the way commuters choose their class schedule isn’t working either.

Student commuters shape their schedules around what times they should be on the road in order not to hit traffic. Students often spend their entire day on campus, attempting to minimize the number of times throughout the week they travel back and forth. This ultimately leads to large gaps between classes and late drives home.

Leandra Gharabegi, a third-year English student, commutes because she lives and works in Glendale. In the short amount of time she’s been at UCLA as a transfer student, she’s found the best way to cope with commuting is to decrease the number of days she’s at UCLA, keeping her on campus from morning until nighttime.

“(It’s all about) making my schedule work in a way that I can keep my job that I need,” Gharabegi said. “I have no choice. I have to fit in my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

While students collectively face the problem of classes being full before their enrollment times, commuter students are left with an even smaller pool of classes they have access to. They juggle clubs and classwork like everyone else, but also have to deal with standstill Los Angeles traffic – not to mention working off campus or holding internships.

“(Choosing classes) is kind of like a puzzle, where I’m just trying to make all the pieces fit in with work,” Gharabegi added.

And because commuting students are limited to the classes that fit their schedule and aren’t full, they’re left with very few classes that actually interest them. This can add unnecessary stress during enrollment.

That’s on top of the stress that comes with staying on campus from dawn to dusk.

Jaredd Franco, a third-year political science student who transferred to UCLA, was a commuter her first quarter. She moved into an off-campus apartment her second quarter.

“(Enrollment) is definitely more of a challenge,” she said. “I have more stress when it comes to enrollment that I hadn’t experienced in community college. Classes in community were more accessible.”

Franco moved closer to campus for the sole reason of convenience in her schedule. Prior to moving closer to school she expressed a feeling of homelessness: She often found herself in her friends’ apartments during midterms and finals.

“(One of the biggest) challenges was sitting in the car for two hours,” Franco said, “I can’t waste all the time just sitting in the car. (And while) I was very fortunate that my friends offered that space for me, that space isn’t my space.”

Commuter students don’t have the ability to immerse themselves in the UCLA community. They’re constantly running from class to class, taking courses that don’t necessarily pique their interests. This can leave them unmotivated.

But this shouldn’t ever be the case. UCLA needs to offer student commuters priority enrollment in order to ease the stress involved with their routines. Priority enrollment can make college more accessible for commuters because it makes commuting less of an obstacle to their educations.

After all, UCLA can’t expect commuter students to have the full student experience if they’re forced to camp out in their cars in between classes and minimize their time on campus.

“You have to choose between self-care and your education,” Gharabegi said. “It’s definitely frustrating because it’s not like an extracurricular activity. Eating isn’t an extracurricular activity; doing schoolwork isn’t an extracurricular activity.”

Certainly, offering commuter students priority enrollment isn’t the complete solution to their problems. But that’s not the point. Students are aware of the difficulties that come with being a commuter, especially traffic. But simply because priority enrollment isn’t the answer to everything doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be readily available to commuters.

At the very least, it finally will let commuter students hit snooze on their alarms.

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Sandra Wenceslao | Opinion columnist
Sandra Wenceslao is an Opinion columnist.
Sandra Wenceslao is an Opinion columnist.
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