Commuter Schools Worth a Look
By Denise M. Topolnicki

(MONEY Magazine) – Here's a surefire strategy that can cut your college costs as much as 60%: Have your child live at home and enroll at a local college. That will eliminate room and board expenses of as much as $7,000 a year. There are dozens of outstanding public and private institutions in major metropolitan areas that primarily serve students who live off-campus. The table at right lists 20 such schools where at least three-quarters of the undergraduates commute and at least 40% of entering freshmen graduate within six years. That's a praiseworthy accomplishment considering that many students who commute to college also hold full-time jobs and that the average six-year graduation rate for all schools is 57%. Most commuter schools are state supported, which keeps tuition low. Many are branches of flagship state universities, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (current tuition: $3,774; 36% six-year graduation rate) and the University of Massachusetts at Boston ($4,332; 39% completion rate). Others are large, urban institutions, like Georgia State University in Atlanta, where nearly all 16,786 undergraduates commute and 34% of entering freshmen finish within six years, and the University of Houston, where 93% of the 22,127 undergraduates live off-campus and 36% of freshmen graduate within six years. Some intellectually challenging commuter schools are the by-products of suburban growth, such as George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., which was founded in 1957, draws most of its 21,300 students from Washington, D.C.'s Virginia suburbs, and graduates 43% of its freshmen in six years. Many technical colleges that primarily serve commuters majoring in engineering, computer science or other technological subjects are also renowned for academic excellence. Among the best: Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, a private school with 1,593 undergraduates (60% of its freshmen get degrees within six years), and the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, a public college with 7,551 students that boasts an impressive six- year graduation rate of 68%.

Topflight private schools with large commuter populations are often affiliated with the Roman Catholic church, among them DePaul University in Chicago, which has 9,788 undergraduates, nearly 80% of whom commute. While DePaul's $11,214 tuition is higher than the typical state university's, college counselors still call the school a bargain because it attracts strong students; this fall's freshmen averaged 25.3 on the ACT and 1,082 on the SAT. DePaul graduates 62% of its freshmen within six years. Shopping for a commuter school is much like searching for the ideal residential college. You and your child should visit campuses and ask plenty of questions about professors' qualifications, class size and other academic matters. (See "Avoid These Hidden Money Traps" on page 6.) In addition, advises educational consultant Edward T. Custard of Chester, N.Y.: "Talk to commuters about their day-to-day experiences with parking and student lounges, not just about faculty and classes. Where you're going to park your car and relax between classes may seem like small things, but inadequate parking and noisy student lounges can really trip you up." Most schools that welcome commuters encourage them to develop friendships with faculty and other students. You can help too, by gently reminding your offspring that he or she should spend more time on campus than on your rec room couch. Advises Jeanette B. Spires, a college counselor in Lake Forest, Ill.: "Students who make the extra effort to join campus organizations and get to know professors will have a much more rewarding college experience than those who don't." -- D.M.T.

BOX: 20 Top Commuter Colleges

Private schools Alverno College (Wis.) DePaul University (Ill.) Holy Family College (Pa.) Iona College (N.Y.) Polytechnic University (N.Y.) St. John's University (N.Y.) St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.) Suffolk University (Mass.) U. of Detroit Mercy (Mich.) Webster University (Mo.)

Public schools Baruch College (City U. of N.Y.) California State-Fresno Florida International University George Mason University (Va.) N.J. Institute of Technology University of Central Florida University of Cincinnati (Ohio) University of Minnesota University of North Florida Temple University (Pa.)