Parking on College Campuses Essay Paper

Parking on College Campuses

Almost every student at some point is concerned about campus parking, whether he or she is a resident who wants to have a car for day trips off-campus, or a commuter for whom a car is a vital necessity. Having decent and accessible parking is also an important ‘selling point’ for many campuses. Regarding the impact of parking upon urban life, particularly tourist areas:

Parking is one of the first experiences that people have when traveling to a destination. Convenient and affordable parking are considered a sign of welcome. Parking that is difficult to find, inadequate, inconvenient or expensive will frustrate users and can contribute to spillover (motorists parking where they should not). As a result, inadequate parking supply can create problems to both users and nonusers… However, excessive parking can also create problems. Parking facilities are expensive to construct, imposing financial costs on developers, building users and governments. In addition, parking facilities impose environmental costs, contradict community development objectives for more livable and walkable communities, and abundant, unpriced parking tends to increase driving and discourage use of alternative modes” (A comprehensive menu of solutions to parking problems, 2011, TDM Encyclopedia).

A college campus is affected by many of the same concerns as a city. It too, wants to draw people from far and wide to apply and attend. It also wants to reduce conflict and uphold a high standard of living for users. But more parking is not always the solution for every college. In fact, it has been said that “overabundant parking supply imposes huge social costs” in terms of the opportunity cost lost on what could be built (Litman 2011). Parking has the potential ability to affect both student retention levels and grades, given the impact it can have upon quality of life. However, limiting parking might also encourage more students to use public transportation which can benefit the environment and uphold a school’s reputation as a sustainable campus. Thus the proposed multifactoral study will be to assess the ratio of parking spaces to students at a university, and how it affects student academic performance, quality of life, and rates of car usage at the university. It will enable universities to gain a sense of how to balance these competing factors.

The need for parking will vary from college to college, depending on the type of institution. The most obvious determinant of the number of parking spaces, of course, would be the numbers of students. But there are other factors, such as the number of commuters, the availability of public transportation, the desirability of ‘getaways’ near the campus, and even things to do on campus. This will affect the numbers of students that bring their cars to school. Additionally, the needs of the faculty and administrative staff will impact parking demand. If the campus is located in an area where most professors live close to walking distance from the school or take public transportation, the need for parking will be less marked than at a campus where commuting is a vital necessity.

A final demand to consider is alternate pressures that can impact parking demand, such as environmental concerns. In the demand to create a greener campus, administrators may wish to decrease the number of cars on campus and thus limit parking spaces. However, the need to allow for alternative students (such as adults or part-time students who must work while attending classes) can increase the demand for parking.

Several options exist to expand parking — the most obvious suggestion is for the university to increase parking garages and lots. This has the advantage of being the most expansive in terms of the increase in parking, but has the detriment of requiring security staff to police car parks late at night and also for increasing demand for parking and car usage because of its attractiveness. Whether having to have specific parking sites allocated for students is another consideration, or reserved spots for faculty. Prioritizing which students receive parking privileges can be a contentious issue.

Another option is to ask for an increase in zoning for off-campus parking, such as curbside on city streets. This is less costly initially, but can raise safety concerns, particularly for students walking to classes in the evening. It can also be more difficult for students to find parking this way, resulting in delays as students struggle to get to class on time. There is also a greater likelihood of strained town-gown relationships if students take up parking spaces that residents would like to use, park illegally, or run up high parking ticket fines and do not pay them when they graduate.

Instead of increasing parking, schools can also find ways to ration or limit parking. For example, they can increase fees for parking to decrease demand, limit the types of students who can have cars (such as prohibiting freshman or non-commuters altogether, except in special circumstances) or even provide financial incentives like tuition reimbursement for students who go green and do not bring their own cars. However, this will not necessarily result in automatically lower costs for the university, given that it may have to increase public transportation on campus, to make up for the loss. New sidewalks or reforming the campus to be more ‘walkable’ may also be required. The University of Kentucky has implemented such a solution on its campus according to Campus Sustainability Perspectives Journal: “currently, UK has a deal with LexTran, the city bus system, which allows for discounted semester and school year passes to UK students” (Webster 2007).

Some demographic trends indicate that there may soon be a sharply increased need for more parking on campuses. For example, “in recent years, the percentage increase in the number of students age 25 and over has been larger than the percentage increase in the number of younger students” as has the number of part-time students, according to the Digest of Education Statistics. These types of students are more apt to be commuters than residential students and need regular access to parking. Because of the recession, more students are apt to begin their education at cheaper community colleges than four-year institutions as well, and these institutions do not provide residence halls and must provide access to parking.

Prior research thus suggests that deciding how much parking to include on campus is a delicate balancing act between the needs of the students, the faculty, and the wider community. What is so fascinating about this topic is the degree to which the ‘parking problem’ demonstrates how universities must balance different goals. They must consider the needs of students, of course — but what students? Will the opportunity cost of allowing more parking for commuting students or students who can afford cars outweigh the loss to students who do not or cannot afford cars on a regular basis and would prefer the space and money to be used for other amenities? And what about faculty members, whose needs must also be taken into consideration?

The notion of selecting certain students for parking privileges calls into question the democratic attitude espoused on many campuses (as might giving certain types of faculty, such as senior or tenured faculty members their own parking spots vs. junior or adjunct members). Should freshman not be giving parking privileges? Does the university’s desire to discourage the consumption of fossil fuels contradict its desire to encourage nontraditional students? The dependent variable of the number of parking spaces can be impacted by social phenomenon spanning from the American love affair with automobiles, to suburban sprawl, to a poor economy encouraging more adults to go back to school and commute and more part-time commuting young people who are staying at home and/or working rather than going to school full time.


A comprehensive menu of solutions to parking problems. (2011). TDM Encyclopedia.

Victoria Transport Policy Institute Journal. Retrieved October 2, 2011 at

Litman, Todd. (2011). Parking management: Innovative solutions to vehicle parking problems. Planetizen Journal of Management. Retrieved October 2, 2011 at

Webster, Andrea. (207). The sustainable transportation challenge on college campuses.

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Campus Sustainability Perspectives Journal: Retrieved October 2, 2011 at

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). Digest of Education Statistics, 2010 (NCES 2011-015). Retrieved October 2, 2011 at

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