Off to college, sort of

September 3, 2006 | By Lini S. Kadaba

Nine days ago, Corey Evans left home for life as a college freshman.

He packed a pickup truck with the dorm essentials he spent weeks accumulating—mini-fridge, extra-long twin sheets, jeans, plastic storage cart, milk crates, rug, bulletin board, textbooks—and set course for Neumann College in Aston.

Evans’ drive time on the road to independence: seven minutes.

The three miles from the Concord Township Colonial where he grew up didn’t even budge the gas gauge.

As college students began moving onto local campuses recently, many traveled no more than a hop, skip and jump from their parents. In a typical high school class, admissions deans say, 90 percent of those who attend college stick within 150 miles of home.

But there’s close to home, and there’s closetohome.

“If I were to go for a jog, I could run to my home and back,” Evans, 19, said unabashedly.

In a national survey of 264,000 freshmen at 385 four-year schools released in January, 18.7 percent of last year’s incoming class said that living near home was a “very important reason” in selecting their college—the largest showing since the question began to be asked in 1983, said Victor Saenz, a director at the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, which collected the data.

Among those who were the first in their families to attend college, such as Evans, nearly half chose a school within 50 miles of home, compared with about 36 percent of other students, the survey found.

Why would a teenager give up the chance to explore new horizons for a spot across town? The reasons are as varied as a suite of roommates.

For many, it comes down to Economics 101. According to the College Board, tuition and fees during the last academic year averaged $21,235 for a private, four-year institution and $5,491 for a public one. Room and board added about $7,000.

“The cost of the college education is one of the forces pushing the trend upward,” Saenz said. Living on campus, considered a rite of passage by many, becomes more doable when there’s no plane fare involved—and there’s a place to do laundry for free.

Erin Farrell, 18, of Glassboro, a freshman at Rowan University in, of course, Glassboro, plans to wash her clothes at home.

“It’s kind of funny,” said Farrell, who is living in a dorm. “I’ve always wanted to go away—away-away, at least a half-hour.”

She didn’t plan to attend Rowan, only 1 1/2 miles from home. But a friend dragged her to an open house, and she was hooked.

“I’m excited, but I’m kind of nervous,” Farrell said before moving in Thursday. “I haven’t been away from my parents.”

The decision to stay local is a no-brainer for many who live in metropolitan areas, including the Philadelphia region, which has more than 80 colleges, say administrators and students.

“It’s Ivy League,” said David Frias, 17, of Juniata Park, who trekked about eight miles Monday to a residence hall at the University of Pennsylvania, his top pick.

And, he said, “it’s only a train ride away from home. This is a way for me to have my cake and eat it, too.”

The choice not to venture too far has much to do with familial relationships, experts say.

Those of the “millennial” generation, born in 1982 or later, get along with their parents better than “any other generation has in the history of polling,” William Strauss, coauthor of Millennials Rising, points out. “Boomer parents enjoy being around their kids, and the kids don’t mind.”

College is no longer a passage to total independence, said Linda Bips, an assistant professor of psychology at Muhlenberg College. Rather, it is the first baby step in “emerging adulthood,” which now stretches from 18 to 30 years old, Bips said. For many, “this is more of a comfortable transition.”

Kevin Curran, 18, lives in Washington Square West. This month, he’ll voyage across the Schuylkill to Drexel University in University City—traveling about the same distance he did to attend high school every day. And that’s far enough, thank you.

“I’m not itching to get across the country from my parents,” he said. “I don’t have that huge urge to get away so quickly and so far.”

His mother, Myrna Curran, said she liked having her only child near—not that his launch will be any easier.

“I’ll probably cry,” she said. “I did for kindergarten as I watched him prance up the steps.”

Kevin decided to live on campus “to get the full college experience.” But compared with classmates from far away, he said, “you feel like you’re kind of cheating. You want to go out on your own, but you can go home whenever you want to.”

The lure of home is a shoal that local collegians must navigate with care, Bips said. Parents and their children should discuss limits.

“It’s not so much whether they’re five minutes away,” Bips said, but whether “they’re coming home every three days to sleep in their bed, or Mom and Dad are dropping in.”

As Bob Voss, dean of admissions at La Salle University, puts it: “Going away from home is a state of mind,” not miles traveled.

Jeff Engelmann, 18, of Northeast Philadelphia, moved just a couple of blocks to Holy Family University last Saturday. More than 60 percent of his fellow freshmen hail from the city.

“Getting away from home is always cool,” Englemann said before his big move to the Torresdale campus. “I can’t wait.”

He was in no rush to pack, though. “I don’t feel the need to get all worked up. If I forget something, it’s not like it’s a two-hour drive,” Englemann said.

Last month, preparing for her daughter’s move to Cedar Crest College, Joie Mizuhara of Allentown was braced for the same “emptiness as everyone else.” Never mind that Lauryn, 19, would be just down the street.

But, Mizuhara joked, “I’m not paying for a room on campus for her to live at home. . . . I’ve already told her, don’t call me if you run out of shampoo.”

Lauryn doesn’t plan to visit all that often. She picked Cedar Crest for its fit with her forensic-psychology major, not its location.

“Once in a while I’ll drop off laundry, say, ‘Hey, Mom,’ and that will be it,” she said.

Corey Evans, a nursing major, also picked Neumann for its reputation in his field of interest. Being on familiar turf, however, was close behind.

“I wanted the experience of living on campus, but not too far away,” he said. “I wouldn’t be as shaky going in as some freshmen. . . . I felt I could concentrate so much better.”

“I didn’t think I would get homesick,” he added.

“He’s ready to fly,” said his mother, Theresa, though she’s thrilled he has stayed close.

And so she busied herself by making up his dorm bed, while Corey, his buddy Keith Cox, 19, and his dad, Charles, lugged everything from the parking lot to Corey’s side of a room not much bigger than a walk-in closet.

“I won’t be doing this for a while,” Theresa Evans said, wistfully.

Three hours later, Corey’s jeans and polos hung in the closet, the blue rug covered the floor, and the insect repellant his mom made him bring sat in the back of the closet.

A pillow he accidentally left home would be easily retrieved.

As his mother, sadly, hugged her son good-bye, Corey made her promise not to cry.

“Mom,” he reminded her, “I’m not far.”