Promoting student engagement among commuter students: a South African case study


  • Benita van Zyl Stellenbosch University
  • Magda Fourie-Malherbe Stellenbosch University


Like most universities across the world, Stellenbosch University (SU) in South Africa is only able to accommodate a minority of its undergraduate student population in university residences. The remaining 75% of students are commuter students living in private accommodation and traveling to campus every day. Literature suggests that residential students traditionally demonstrate higher levels of engagement and participation in student communities than commuter students. Hence, a variety of interventions are undertaken to enhance commuter student engagement.

At SU the residential education and cluster initiative aimed to address the needs of commuter students by providing a physical on-campus space for commuter students and by granting them access to common areas in residence dining halls and study areas. The purpose is to promote social interaction among residential and commuter students in the co-curricular environment. This initiative further seeks to create student engagement and integrated learning communities that are commuter-friendly and to promote active and collaborative academic and social activities outside the classroom. Whereas the initiative endeavours to integrate the campus experience of students that live in student residences and those that live off-campus and commute, it also aims at integrating the curricular and co-curricular experiences of students. Ultimately the aim is to improve student success (academic success) and student development in the co-curricular space. This study used program evaluation to gain a better understanding of the cluster initiative and hub, the extent to which it addresses the needs of commuter students and promotes commuter student engagement and success.


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Author Biographies

Benita van Zyl, Stellenbosch University

Residential Education Manager. Her passion for student wellness led to research in student engagement and learning communities.

Magda Fourie-Malherbe, Stellenbosch University

Professor of Higher Education Studies. Her research interests include leadership and management, student success, and transformation.




How to Cite

van Zyl, B., & Fourie-Malherbe, M. (2021). Promoting student engagement among commuter students: a South African case study. Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal, 3(2), 119–140. Retrieved from