North Carolina A&T State University graduate student Caleb Neal spends $50 a month filling up his tank for his 2014 Nissan Rogue. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University senior Camille Zanders spends $35 every two weeks to fill up her 2015 Toyota Corolla.

With gas prices fluctuating nationally and inflation affecting virtually every other aspect of students’ finances, owning a car is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth for students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). As many HBCUs continue to add housing and other buildings to their small campuses, parking spaces are decreasing, forcing  students to pay for expensive parking passes or find alternate transportation.  

The average cost of college in 2023 is $36,436 per year, including daily living expenses, books, and supplies, per the Education Data Initiative. Nationwide, it’s becoming more expensive to own a car too — automotive group AAA reported the cost of car ownership increased 13% this year, now at $1,015 a month, or $12,182 annually.  

These rising costs mean some students must make deals with family members to help reduce their expenses.

“My parents pay for my car, so I must pull in any school scholarships. I always pay the remaining tuition balance out of pocket,” said Zanders. 

Alabama State University student Michaela McKenzie has experienced two car accidents and multiple urgent car repairs, which she said have forced her to dip into her savings account.

“Sometimes I barely have enough money to buy food or gas, so constantly pulling from something that’s supposed to be a financial ‘safeguard’ for me has been very stressful and difficult,” she said.

The senior continued:“To see the original number of funds that I had in my account constantly falling lower and lower when I’m barely making enough money to support myself currently is very disheartening.”

In metropolitan areas, some students are concerned about car theft and the costs of dealing with a stolen vehicle. Motor vehicle theft is on the rise nationally, with a 10.9% increase from 2021 to 2022, according to the most recent FBI crime report. According to a 2020 National Center for Education Statistics study, 12% of the 2,500 reported on-campus crimes were motor vehicle thefts.

Motor vehicle crimes can drastically change a student’s daily routine because of how much they depend on their vehicles. 

“I’m very concerned about my car because this is my main source of transportation and I have some valuables in my car like a picture or scarves,” said Victoria Daniels, a student at Morgan State University. 

Even parking turns car ownership benefits into a financial burden for some students. Annual student parking rates are $680 at Howard University, while institutions like Prairie View A&M University make students pay only $158 per year. 

Michelle Ricks, the director of parking and shuttle services at Howard, explains the reasoning for such a drastic difference in parking prices is due to location. According to Ricks, the university is also preparing to build more on campus housing, which will only lessen the amount of parking spaces already available. 

“I would say that our faculty, staff and students are going to be faced with having to find alternative means to (get to) campus, which I feel is a good thing because we are replacing parking with more housing for our students so our students can live on campus,” Ricks said.

Howard currently requires freshmen and sophomores to live on campus. Freshmen are not allowed to have vehicles in an attempt to keep the number of cars on the campus lower to accommodate all the faculty, staff and students. 

Howard also has a smaller campus in comparison to bigger HBCUs like Prairie View A&M. According to USnews.com, Prairie View’s campus size is 1,502 acres, while Howard’s campus is only 256 acres. 

North Carolina A&T has even less space than Howard at 188 acres. The lack of space has resulted in parking issues, especially in the most recent school year as enrollment has increased by nearly 400 students according to the university newspaper, The A&T Register. 

Kim Jackson, the interim director of parking services at North Carolina A&T, expressed similar sentiments to Ricks in The A&T Register when asked about the parking issues for off campus students. 

“ … if they could try not to drive to campus during the academic day and take the bus, it would be better for everyone,” she said. “[It would] cut down on some of the demand. ”

Location plays a big part in HBCU students’ transportation decisions. Choosing between convenience and cost effectiveness can be a challenge. Arielle Wiggins, a recent graduate of Claflin University originally chose the “convenient” option in public transportation before switching to using her parent’s vehicle. 

“I think that driving a car is more convenient than public transportation because you do not have to rely on a specific schedule that is at times inconsistent,” said Wiggins. “However it is not more cost effective.” 

Wiggins compared the costs of each: “I spend about $60 on gas a week as opposed to the $125 I paid a month for an unlimited bus pass. While it was cheaper I chose to pay for convenience and comfort.”

Despite the various costs of gas, parking and repairs, some students still believe owning a vehicle is more than worth it. 

“I do see an overall benefit in having and owning a vehicle as a college student,” said McKenzie, the Alabama State student. “As a result of having a car, I can do things like drive to work, cross campus and do various off campus social events or career building opportunities.” 

Kendal Manns is a fellow with the HBCU Student Journalism Network, a project of Open Campus.