By Sarah Hayes, A&E Editor
At the April 6 Budget and Planning Committee meeting, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, in all of its infinite wisdom, presented its decision to eliminate the subsidies that provide discounted Metro passes to students, faculty, and staff. Because the best way to cut costs at a predominantly commuter-based university and entice area students to enroll and keep our relationship as a business with Metrolink on the up and up is to destroy any remaining vestige of accessibility via public transport. Good job, UMSL! Expensive plaques for everyone!
My understanding was that a portion of my student fees goes towards paying for these passes, which UMSL buys at a reduced rate in bulk from Metro. It seems that only recently fees were raised for students, since the optics of raising tuition at a time when enrollment is on a decline would be very bad for administration. So, where is my money going? Obviously not to the Metro Pass Program. Or if it is, it is being badly mishandled.
Instead of cutting the Metro Pass Program, it would make more sense for UMSL to renegotiate whatever it is paying Metrolink. For one thing, Metrolink is so broke that they cannot afford to refuse whatever UMSL would offer in terms of monetary compensation; they could probably make up the difference in a larger campus presence for Metrolink, including tables in the Millennium Student Center with hiring agents. For another thing, Metrolink has not one, but two stops on campus for train service as well as a stop for the Natural Bridge bus. Discontinuing the pass system means cutting off these access points to campus for students who cannot afford to buy Metro passes at full price and do not have any other means of transportation.
UMSL is, at its heart, a commuter college (despite every single effort to make it a dorm-based college, which is not working). Three-fourths of the current student body are commuting here on a regular basis—which, considering the sorry state of housing, it is no wonder they do not want to live closer to class (only last year did The Current report on the mold issue in Villa). The students who come here are predominantly lower-class and reliant on scholarships and government grants. Programs that assist in any way in lessening the cost of basic necessities like transportation are vital to retaining these students.
If there is no low-cost transportation system to campus, UMSL will very likely see the number of enrolled students drop as they seek their education elsewhere. We will definitely lose students to St. Louis Community College, who just last year enacted their own Metro Pass system, giving free passes to any student enrolled in at least one credit hour per semester. Having the Archers steal a portion of our best and brightest due to budget constraints would be a real ‘shots fired’ moment to be avoided.
If UMSL wants to remain accessible to the greater St. Louis community—and not just the upper and middle-class white bread community—it must continue its relationship with Metrolink and keep the Metro Pass Program open as it is. A more accessible UMSL is a more open UMSL, a more diverse UMSL, a more successful UMSL, and the kind of UMSL I would be proud to graduate from.