Prowl Magazine

Under the parents’ roof: commuters who stay at home

Students choose to live at home with their parents to help save money while in college. Photo courtesy Peyton Hutchison.

Ryan Rusin, a junior screenwriting major, had a presentation in his French class at 8 a.m. At 7:50 a.m., he was stuck in a gridlock on the “Orange Crush” interchange, where the cities of Garden Grove, Orange and Anaheim converge. With traffic at a standstill, Rusin, afraid to miss his presentation, entered the carpool lane as a lone driver. Red and blue lights immediately flashed in the rearview mirror of Rusin’s blue 2008 Honda Civic Coup. With a $492 ticket in hand, he arrived at Chapman only to find out his French class had been canceled that morning.

“That was a very expensive lesson,” Rusin said.

In addition to traffic horror stories for commuters, some negative consequences of commuting from home include feeling disconnected from the university and a lack of independence, some students said.  

There are also benefits that coincide with living at home with parents. Commuter students choose to live at home to save money, eat home-cooked meals and forgo a small dorm with a roommate.

Young adults are choosing to live at home with their parents for longer than ever before. 36 percent of young adults aged 18 to 31 in the U.S. were living in their parents’ homes, the highest percentage in at least 40 years, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. In 2015, the national average of adults aged 18 to 34 living in their parents’ home was 34.1 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Chapman’s tuition has increased over the last few years, according to the National Center for Educational Studies. There has been a 3 percent increase in tuition for on-campus residents since the 2015-2016 school year, and tuition costs for students living off campus with family has increased 2.6 percent. In addition to Chapman’s 2017 tuition of $50,210 for full-time students, living in a double-occupancy room costs about $5,000, and a meal plan can cost up to $2,367, according to the Chapman University website

Senior communication studies and theatre major Samantha Lager planned to live on campus during her freshman year. But Lager and her mother agreed that it would save them more than $20,000 a year if she commuted to school from her Costa Mesa home, a 20-minute drive from Chapman.

“People always say a pro of living at home is your mom making you food. I have never experienced that. I have grown up on Stouffer’s frozen dinners my whole life,” Lager said.

Students living off campus may direct their time to other obligations, which can hinder their opportunity to develop a sense of place, according to a 2016 study by the Journal of International Education Research. Chapman commuters, like Lager and Rusin, also struggle with feeling out of place, and they yearn for a stronger bond to Chapman, they said.

“I was so disconnected during my first two years at Chapman. I missed out on a lot of opportunities to make connections with people, so I do feel like I’m trying to make up for lost time now,” Lager said.

Rusin lives 35 minutes away from Chapman in Garden Grove with his mother. He chose to live at home during college to save money, but during his first three semesters at Chapman, he said felt like an outcast and that he had no time to network in between working part-time jobs and commuting. In his first semester of sophomore year, Rusin was feeling depressed because of his distance from the campus community and decided to seek help from Chapman’s Student Psychological Counseling Services.

“Commuting contributed to not feeling social enough with other students and not feeling connected to the campus, so that definitely contributed to the depression,” Rusin said.

Rusin experienced a shift in the spring semester of his sophomore year. Because he was living at home, his family could help him during tough times.

“Without my family there to help guide me, I would’ve felt pretty lost. I wouldn’t have had the same advice or support system had I been on my own or with a single roommate,” Rusin said.

Unlike Rusin, some commuter students hardly see their parents due to their busy schedules.

Senior communication studies major Peyton Hutchison sometimes gets home to Yorba Linda at 10 p.m., while her parents and sister are asleep, and will leave for Chapman in the morning while her parents are getting ready for work.

“My parents have expressed many times how much they miss me even though I still live under their own roof,” Hutchison said.

Lager has a similar experience to Hutchison.

“When I get home, everyone is asleep, and I wake up when everybody is already gone. It’s basically almost like living alone,” Lager said.

Earlier in the semester, Lager got to experience what it was like to not be a commuter. Her parents’ Costa Mesa house was being fumigated so she stayed with her friend in Orange, along with six other roommates.

“That week has been fun, but I do miss the peace and silence that I can enjoy at home,” Lager said.

Junior screenwriting major James Gelberg has lived on campus and at home with his parents during college. When he graduated from high school in 2015, Gelberg chose to attend the University of Texas at Austin after not being accepted to the film production major at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. In his second semester at the University of Texas at Austin, Gelberg applied to transfer into the screenwriting program at Dodge College and was accepted. From there, he moved back home to Long Beach, 25 minutes from Chapman, to live with his parents.

“People always say a pro of living at home is your mom making you food. I have never experienced that. I have grown up on Stouffer’s frozen dinners my whole life,” Lager said. Photo courtesy Samantha Lager.

Gelberg said that living at home takes away some of the independence he experienced when he was on his own.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have that same kind of independence here,” Gelberg said. “Living away from home was really a chance to be completely alone, which sounds really sad, but it ended up being hugely beneficial.”

Gelberg went to the movies by himself for the first three weeks of school at University of Texas, something that he had never done before. He considered that sense of independence he gained while away from home before hitting the accept button to come to Chapman, he said.

While Gelberg may have lost some of his independence, he now doesn’t have to pay rent.

“It’s one of the biggest pros,” he said.

Hutchison, Lager and Rusin also share the advantage of not having to pay rent. However, some are still expected to uphold household roles and responsibilities.

“I got out of tedious chores, but took on more adult and financial responsibilities like car insurance, gas and student loans,” Hutchison said.

Lager experienced some tension with her parents’ expectations for household chores.

“I actually had to sit down with my parents and talk to them and tell them, ‘I am 21 years old, but sometimes you treat me like I’m 16,’” Lager said.

Rusin pays for his phone bill, gas and food, but does not have to pay the water bill or mortgage. He shares the responsibility of the household with his mother, who is a teacher in the Long Beach Unified School District.

I take care of the house like it’s my own place because during the day while my mom is working, it feels like it is my own place,” Rusin said. “I treat it like it’s just as much my responsibility as it is hers.”

Being a commuter does not mean that growth during college is hindered, Rusin said.

“If anything, by commuting and staying closer, it made the growth process easier to navigate,” Rusin said.

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