Student engagement – the other 55 per cent

ANU Students' Association President Ben Gill explores the life of a non-residential student.

Did you know that less than a quarter of undergraduates fit into the description of a traditional student?

This traditional student enters full-time study immediately after high school, lives on campus and rarely works because the parents are their source of support.

As recently as the early 2000s, non-residential - or commuter - students were included in the 'non-traditional' student category.

However, when you view ANU and other Group of Eight (Go8) universities, the reality is that most students do not live on campus.

Despite the numbers leaning in favour of non-residential students, the discussion is often too narrowly focused on the residential experience.

This tunnel vision is further supported through a quick review of the higher education literature regarding the 'student experience' or 'student engagement', where it is evident there is a disproportionate focus on the benefits of residential life.

At ANU, this is most certainly the case. With more than 45 per cent of undergraduate students living at one of the seven on campus residences, ANU has the highest percentage of residential students among Go8 universities.

While this residential experience is generally used as a symbol of pride, it begs the question: what about the other 55 per cent?

It is important to note that the issue is not the focus on the residential experience but rather too little focus on the non-residential sphere of student life and the diversity which exists within this category.

From the limited literature regarding non-residential students, it has been found this category of students are, among other things: more likely to be first generation students and less academically prepared; more likely to cycle in and out of University; may postpone or discontinue enrolling in University to work more hours to afford the following semesters tuition and or to take care of family needs; more likely to be older; work full time and have a family or extended family to support and more likely to limit their time on campus because of a more complex lifestyle.