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Why Doesn’t SAIC Offer A Summer UPASS Option?

Chicago schools with similar programs offer students a more affordable summer transportation option. Why doesn’t SAIC?

By Featured, SAIC

Illustration by Sacha Lusk.

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of the only universities in the Chicago metroplex that chooses not to offer their summer students a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) UPASS. The UPASS, a public transportation pass that provides students with unlimited rides on Chicago’s public transportation for $135 per 15-week semester, is offered to full-time students at the city’s universities. SAIC, however, only provides the option of purchasing a UPASS to students during the fall, spring, and winter terms.

When asked why affordable transportation options aren’t provided for summer students, a representative at the ARTICard office at SAIC said that it wasn’t in their contract with the CTA. In an email exchange with the CTA’s media office, however, a CTA employee clarified that “each school negotiates its own UPASS contract with CTA, so it’s up to each individual school what terms their contract will have with CTA, including whether to include summer UPASS privileges.”

In order to provide students with access to UPASS during the summer, all SAIC has to do is ask. Instead, the school chooses not to provide students with access to low-cost transportation.

For the record, most of the city’s large colleges and universities offer UPASS to their summer students. Loyola University, DePaul University, Columbia College Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois Chicago all offer UPASS to summer students. Loyola’s summer UPASS is $98 and provides students UPASS use for 13 weeks: from May 22 through August 11 regardless of the duration of their classes.

For the sake of comparison, it’s worth noting that Loyola had 16,437 students in 2015; 11,079 were undergraduate students. For the 2017 summer term, Loyola charged $751 per credit hour. SAIC, comparatively, had 3,569 students in 2016; 2,848 were undergraduate students. For the 2017 summer term, SAIC charges $1,497 per credit hour. In short: Loyola has more students who are less financially obligated to the school than SAIC.

Maribel Ortiz, the associate director of the ARTICard / UPASS office, said it was too hard for SAIC to determine who should have UPASS and when they should have it. In a statement from the office via email, Ortiz said that “the CTA UPASS program is not designed to accommodate schools like us with multiple start- and end-dates in one term, requiring one UPASS plan for 12 weeks in the summer and every full-time student to pay for it even if they are only taking classes for six weeks.” She also wrote that the UPASS is “impractical for our students.”

Summer classes at SAIC cost $4,491 — the cost covers a single  three-credit-hour class. It costs $90 to commute to and from SAIC to attend class for the duration of the three-week class. That cost doesn’t include travel for purposes outside of attending class, trips to school to complete homework, or travel to purchase supplies. The cost dramatically increases when factoring in any additional classes, longer classes, or on-campus jobs. To attend a six-week class and one day of work a week, transportation to and from SAIC costs a student $120.

The Add / Drop period for the summer semester ends in the spring; SAIC, therefore, has information on which students will be in summer classes weeks before spring classes end. In order to determine which students will be on campus as “full-time students,” the school would simply have to sort their enrollment data as they do for all other semesters.

In addition to claiming that providing UPASS to students would be too much work for the school, the ARTICard / UPASS office insinuated that students would not want or need a UPASS if it was offered because they find “a summer UPASS program impractical for our students,” as a representative put it in an email.

While students living in the dorms would not use UPASS to commute to SAIC, they may wish to use it anyway to travel around the city. One of the draws of summer classes is the ability to take advantage of Chicago’s active summer season. Without UPASS, students staying in the dorms are not afforded the opportunity to leave the Loop. For students living off-campus, lack of access to UPASS directly affects the ability to attend class.

When asked about how lack of UPASS access affects her, Kelsey Becker, a junior in the fashion department and student employee of SAIC, said, “It is absolutely ridiculous. I have even talked to my boss at SAIC about it and asked if he would bring it up in a meeting to try and change it. “ She added that “it makes it more difficult financially. Having UPASS for the summer would help immensely and I would not feel like a large chunk of my paycheck is going to just simply getting to work.”


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