Jul 19, 2022 - News

Half of NC's community colleges not within walkable transit

Illustration of a street sign with a person checking their watch.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Fewer than half of North Carolina's community college campuses (48%) have a public transit stop within walking distance, according to a new analysis from the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation.

  • In comparison, SHSF found the nationwide rate was 57%, putting North Carolina below average.
  • Most people are willing to walk up to half a mile to a transit stop, according to research from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Of note: Most people are willing to walk up to half a mile to a transit stop, according to research from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Why it matters: More than a third of all students in the U.S. attend community college, and nearly all of them have to commute to class — a potential burden for some of the state’s low-income students. In North Carolina, more than 500,000 people attend community colleges annually.

  • Those students spend an average of $1,840 on transit per year, Abigail Seldin, CEO of the SHSF tells Axios.
  • Without consistent and easily accessible transit options, Seldin adds, students that lack access to a car could be discouraged from seeking higher education — a significant driver of economic mobility in the state.
Data: SHS Foundation; Chart: Axios Visuals

What they're saying: "Working students, parenting students and students from low-income households are all over represented at community and technical colleges," Seldin says. "These are folks who every economic planner is talking about the importance of getting them…job training. But they have to be able to get to the job training."

  • Even when campuses do have a transit stop, the service might not be frequent enough to be useful to students who work or have children, she added.

State of play: Schools in rural counties in Eastern North Carolina and the mountains have some of the biggest gaps in public transit options. But some campuses in larger metro areas have gaps as well.

  • Two Wake Technical Community College campuses (the Western Wake campus in Cary and the Eastern Wake Education Center in Zebulon) and one Durham Technical Community college campus (the Northern Durham Center) are not considered within walking distance of a transit stop.

Yes, but: Seldin says there's opportunity for improvement, as 17% of North Carolina's community college campuses are less than five miles from an existing transit line but not yet connected.

Wake Tech has invested in helping its students navigate different transit options to its campus. The community college's Green Trek initiative helps students navigate bus routes, coordinate carpooling with other students and highlight safe bike routes to some of its campuses.

  • Before GoTriangle fares were eliminated during the pandemic, the community college gave out free bus passes to students, though that effort had just started in February 2020. That month the school distributed 673 passes. Should fares be reinstated, the school will resume giving out passes, said Zachary Lang, Wake Tech's sustainability and transportation coordinator.

Lang said many people might not be aware of their alternative transit options.

  • "In this area, there definitely is a focus on that you need a car to get anywhere," Lang told Axios. "But through the [Green Trek] program, we're sort of trying to showcase that's not necessarily true."

What's next: In Wake County, Lang said Wake Tech is continuing to look at how it can improve equitable access to its campuses.

  • The school's under-construction eastern campus is being built in Wendell because that was a part of the county that lacked nearby educational opportunities, Lang said.
  • It’s also highlighting its online classes. More than 30,000 of its students were either hybrid or online, close to half the students that attend Wake Tech. "Having this option can help eliminate transportation as a barrier for students," Lang said.
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