Schools rework schedules to save students gas money

COLUMBIA --- Two-year colleges in South Carolina and around the nation are rewriting schedules so cash-strapped students can save on commuting costs.


Many are eliminating Friday classes from their traditional Monday-Wednesday-Friday school weeks, or crafting schedules that allow students to come to campus only one day a week. Schools also are opening more satellite offices so students don't have to drive as far, or increasing online courses that mean no drives at all.

"It is a big help. Gas prices are through the roof," said Bridget Morton, an 18-year-old freshman at Northeastern Technical College. Schedule changes at the Cheraw, S.C., school mean one less 30-mile round-trip commute from her home in Chesterfield each week.

That's a skate of a ride compared with what Melissa Pate had last year. She would drive 100 miles round-trip a couple of times a week from her Fort Lawn home, then to work and then to classes tied to a nursing program at York Technical College.

York Tech shortened its weekly schedule in 2006 as gas prices hit $2.77 for a gallon of regular, which meant Ms. Pate had to commute only two days a week instead of three.

"Without that, I wouldn't have been able to afford to go to school," she said.

These days, Ms. Pate, 33, has it even easier: She's taking her remaining classes online and expects to earn her degree in October.

A survey of 885 students done by the school this year showed gas prices are the top personal finance concern for half the students on a campus where a third drive 20 miles or more to get to class.

Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College began shifting to a four-day schedule last year after surveying students. College President Anne Crook said rising gas prices and students needing more flexibility caused the change. Some students said gas prices were keeping them from paying tuition.