College Connect: The very high cost of college parking

Posted By Crystal Beasley

 Student at 2016 University of Missouri commencement stapled parking tickets to his mortarboard.

Student at 2016 University of Missouri commencement stapled parking tickets to his mortarboard.

By Lauren E. Steffens

Parking is the bane of college students.

It’s a scene repeated every day – students are circling the metered parking lot near inner campus, waiting for students to leave so they can claim a coveted spot. After finally grabbing a spot, putting in coins or a pay card, they dash to class. It’s a scene I remember well, as that lot was across the street from my sorority house, where I was able to have a primo spot for my car as part of my monthly housing payment.

Now that I’m a graduate student who commutes into campus, I’m the one looking for that spot, and I’ve gotten a few tickets in the process. We want to have our car on campus, but parking space is at a premium, and all the best places go to faculty and staff. Students are relegated to distant lots. If you want to park close, you either park illegally and risk a stiff fine or pay through the nose for hourly parking.

Every college student knows someone who owes a fortune in parking tickets – with fines as much as $25 or even $50 for illegal or overtime parking.   When schools find the driver, often diplomas are held up until the fine is paid.

According to a survey by the American Automobile Assn., college student spend a collective $15 billion annual on their cars. The survey also said that students who attend school in parking-challenged Washington DC area spend $225 to $1,300 a year to park. And of course, that’s just for a space that’s a long walk from campus.

So, how do you balance a car on campus with a tight budget?   First, plan ahead. Parking permits go by class status. As a grad student, I get first pick for a lot that costs me $120 a year, which is low by comparison to other, more urban schools. I bought a folding bike rack for $26 from Amazon. My plan is to bike to class from my lot.

Other tips:

Does your campus have a commuter lot with bus service? If so, plan ahead and make the time to park, get on the bus and get to class.

If you do get a ticket, pay on time. I know, I know, you don’t want to tell your parents you got a ticket, but it may double or triple if you don’t pay within 30 or 60 days.

Negotiate. Find out where your Campus Parking Office is. If you go in soon after your ticket, they might reduce or waive the amount if your reason is compelling.

Carpool. The buddy can drop you at class and circle back to park if they have time.

Look for an off-campus apartment with shuttle service. This saved me big $$, as the shuttle dropped me off in inner campus and I was able to leave my car.

And finally – rethink having a car at all. Many universities, like Indiana University, have close-in apartments, though they are more expensive. Then, it’s a calculation of parking costs, vs. higher rent.


Lauren E. Steffens is a master’s student in studio art at the University of Missouri

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