It feels like it was just yesterday that I was agonizing over which college to attend — sifting through brochures and scrolling through websites, attending virtual events, and making detailed pro and con lists. Through it all, there was one school that stood out to me: Oberlin.
Though Oberlin’s rural location wasn’t ideal, I remember thinking that the College had the best of both worlds: a close-knit campus in a quaint downtown and an easily accessible metropolitan area — Cleveland — brimming with opportunity and only 35 minutes away from campus. However, contrary to what the Admissions Office tells prospective students, transportation to Cleveland is inaccessible and expensive, making it nearly impossible for Oberlin students who do not own a car to travel to Cleveland.
Oberlin boasts on its website that its students have all the perks of Cleveland at their disposal. It even brings all first-year students to Cleveland during orientation as part of their Connect Cleveland Initiative to “link Oberlin students with opportunities and partnerships in the Greater Cleveland area.”
Even though Oberlin never explicitly promises on its website that it will provide students with cheap transportation options, it claims that, “for students looking for transportation to Cleveland for independent purposes, [they] offer several options.” However, if one actually visits the Oberlin Transportation website, they will notice that the only shuttle provider is the Airport Oberlin Shuttle, which brings students to the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport for a one-way fee of $20, or $40 roundtrip — more if you don’t pay cash. The cost of an Uber or Lyft could be twice as much. Paying $40 just to get in and out of Cleveland is not financially feasible for most college students. I reached out to Oberlin Transportation over email, but the account was temporarily unmonitored, which is even more indicative of Oberlin’s lack of interest in fulfilling its promise of connecting students to Cleveland.
Oberlin’s lack of shuttle services is problematic on many levels. Cities offer students ample career development opportunities, from internships to networking opportunities, that cannot be found as easily in a suburban town like Oberlin. Currently, Oberlin offers transportation-related funding only for Winter Term and summer internships. However, many organizations only offer internships during the fall or spring semesters. The inability to access internships in Cleveland during the academic year limits students’ chances to build their résumés, putting them at a disadvantage when it comes time to apply for jobs after graduation.
If students had easy access to Cleveland, they would find more opportunities to volunteer and make a difference in their communities. Politically inclined students, for example, could participate in political rallies or intern for political campaigns. Students could also benefit from Cleveland’s dynamic art and cultural scene.
The College should want its students to step outside of the Oberlin bubble and learn more about the world. It should also want its students to have résumé-building and networking opportunities that will help them land jobs after graduation. Students without cars will be able to pursue these opportunities οnly if the College provides transportation options at low- or no- cost to students.
Obviously, it’s more cost-effective for Oberlin not to offer shuttles to and from Cleveland. However, other institutions like Brandeis University and Wellesley College have proven that it is possible for a college to be financially responsible while still prioritizing student life. Brandeis provides its students with free shuttle services into Boston and Cambridge, Thursday through Sunday. Wellesley offers its students rides to Cambridge, Friday through Sunday, on the Senate Bus for only $3 one way. They also offer exchange buses during the week so that students participating in the Wellesley-MIT exchange program can get to their classes. While cross-exchange students have priority for this weekday service, all Wellesley students can use it to get easy access to the benefits of a large city. These educational institutions are willing to invest in student life and learning, even though it comes at a higher cost. If Brandeis is willing to shuttle students a half an hour away so they can enjoy the academic, artistic, and cultural benefits of the nearby city, then Oberlin has no excuse not to shuttle its students into Cleveland.