Airport Assault: Road Racing at WCU

Airport Assault Road Course
Airport Assault Road Course

In a college town that consists of little more than an expanding campus and a run-of-the-mill athletic department, it’s easy to overlook the absolutely excellent events that take place.

Outside of the Valley of the Lilies Half-Marathon and 5k, and when Western alum Manteo Mitchell pulled in Olympic Silver at the London Games, there hasn’t been a ton to be proud of in terms of athletic achievement. Luckily, and thanks to a dedicated group of collegiate cyclists, Western is now set to host a three-part race weekend on Saturday and Sunday March 22 and 23.

Though I wasn’t a part of the riding community, to see this group put together a complete race experience is nothing short of exciting. It’s easy to get lost in the valley that houses Cullowhee, to forget that there are people that want to come and experience the mountains. The nine percent grade of the time trial route may not be the way most people expect to experience Cullowhee, but then again active communities like cyclists don’t always fit into the “most people” category anyway.

The races are open to collegiate riders, with registration online at USA Cycling. These races include the one mile time trial mentioned before, an 18-63 mile road race, and a 20-50 minute criterium. Distances and times will be determined by rider category, which include Collegiate M-A,B,C,D and W-A,B. Each race costs $15 to pre-register, and $18 for day-of registration.

An awards ceremony will take place on Sunday after the criterium, which should not only highlight the weekend’s top racers, but also the little-known hospitality that so many people in the WCU community are full of. With the introduction of the Airport Assault race weekend, I’m proud to say I graduated from Western, and can’t wait to see what this does for the cycling team, the university and the community as a whole.

For more information take a look at the official WCU Cycling Team page and learn more about the excellent people that are making this event happen.

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The Business of Edcuation

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My general disdain for the money made from higher education has been pretty evident, if it hasn’t, just browse through the education category over on the left. Typically my focus is on student loans, the impact that students are left to deal with in the pursuit of a decent education, but today I’m taking a slightly different route.

Thanks to the Western Carolinian, the student newspaper at Western Carolina University, today I’m focused on how the money is being spent by the institution. Before I get started though, I will clarify: the issue I’m addressing in this post is not that money is being spent, but how it is being spent.

Having established that, the inspiration for this post comes from a recent article published by the Western Carolinian in regard to the 2020 Vision Plan for WCU, and the impact that a potential parking garage would have on students, staff and faculty.

Parking garages are expensive, they must be managed and maintained, just like any other facility. I get that. Considering the growth that WCU has experienced over the last few years, I’m not one to disagree with the notion that a parking garage is probably a smart idea for the preservation of the campus and the community. In this case, I’d personally much rather see one structure a short distance from campus that could provide solid parking options for students without paving over the whole landscape.

There is one thing however that sticks out to me though, and an issue that I believe should be a more intricate part of the planning well beyond 2020, and should be considered as we head into 2014.

The faculty and staff of WCU have not received a raise in their salary since 2008, and some of them are upset that their parking fees will go up in order to compensate for the garage. Renee Corbin, director of assessment, even talked about parking further away from campus or making a deal with local business, for a fee. If the faculty and staff are to pay more per year for parking or other fees in order to accomplish the 2020 Vision plan, without a pay raise, they have every right to be frustrated.

Western Carolinian

I can’t imagine that Western is the only school with this problem, not necessarily directly related to a parking garage, but the idea that faculty aren’t seeing pay raises for the work and dedication given to the institutions they serve, as money continues to be spent on expansion projects and useless campus “beautification”.

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Where my problem with the situation goes deeper, is the fact that all of this money is spent, but programs continue to be cut, class sizes increase as classes are cut from programs, and the blame is placed on money and budgeting despite expansion and beautification projects.

Yes, growth is good. I’m not saying that it isn’t, but should the quality of education, and the quality of programs offered be driven into the ground just so the students can have a new fountain or new campus directional signs?

The simple answer is no. At institutions of higher education, something inside me says that we should be focusing on maintaining a competitive level of education, not making things pretty. There are programs at WCU that have scaled back so much, that they hardly resemble the programs that students initially came to the school for.

On a larger scale, the problem with education across the country, high schools and colleges alike, is coming from how money is being spent. At some point, the focus needs to be on advancing what is best for students, or these institutions need to quit pretending to be focused on education.

Yes, I included high schools because North Carolina can’t seem to get anything right in terms of budgeting for education, which may or may not come from the fact that all the people making real decision have no idea what it’s like to work in the actual education system.

Teachers, professors, faculty and staff, they all deserve respect from the students they serve, but they deserve even more from the systems that they are working for.

If education were actually the focus of higher education, I’d be willing to bet money that many of the problems we’re facing would seemingly fix themselves. But when you’re more concerned with the way something looks than how it operates, then no, none of these problems are ever going to be solved.

Education is a business. It’s time the employees were shown that they are appreciated, not just being used to bring in more money under the facade of helping develop the future.

As always, that’s just my two cents and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but where I do think we can come together is in the idea that a change needs to be made to the system as a whole; something is broke, it’s time we fixed it.

Pell Grant Reform?

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I’ll probably make some people mad with my opinion about Pell Grants, but as the program is looking at a well that is quickly running dry, I believe that there is some level of accuracy in my concern.

First, let’s start with the problem I’ve stated before. The government is a business, they make money, they spend money, they do it from behind a veil of concern for you. As education is concerned the government does not deviate, hence the $41.3 billion profit posted for the 2013 fiscal year. According to the Detroit Free Press, that’s the third highest profit level in the world, behind Exxon Mobil and Apple.

Second, Pell Grants, though useful to good students that deserve the opportunity to pursue a higher education, do not need to be given to anyone over 30.

That probably sounds harsh, but when there are 18 year olds that want to pursue an education but can’t because of affordability, then no, I don’t think that a person who chose to work instead should be receiving grant money. Again, I empathize with those people that have personal or family issues that prohibit them from going to school, but having three family members that are well over the age of 30, just now pursuing their education, it upsets me to hear how much grant money they receive for an online education.

When I graduated from Western, I had never been eligible for a grant. Even in the year that my father was out of a job, a year with zero income, which FAFSA is supposed to take into account, my student loan amounts were reduced so that I was forced into taking out parent loans too if I wanted to continue my education.

Yes that was right, parent loans was the government’s answer to my family having zero income.

So if you want Pell Grant Reform, the government needs to do the same thing they should do with Social Security. Allocate money to the people that deserve it, stop handing out pity money, and at some point hold people accountable for the life choices that they make.

The older you are, the more opportunity you’ve had to pursue a career, which could be paying for the education that you suddenly realized you needed. A high school grad shouldn’t be penalized for your decision to work.

As far as money for education is concerned, this isn’t about reform, it’s about common sense.

Daily Blogging: 2 Week Mark

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It’s Friday, and the week has been full of new things, posts on politics, fashion, student issues, and occasionally a mention of joblessness in the face a wedding.

Today however, considering the weekend is on the brink of beginning, I’ll go easy.

When I told Paige that I was no longer going to be working the job that I’d been at since May, we weren’t sure what I should do. It’s difficult to look for a job when you have to ask for the second month off so you can go on a 19-day honeymoon in Japan, let alone the week before that trip to have the actual wedding. So, considering the difficulty of finding a job with those stipulations, Paige issued me a challenge.

Blog at least once a day.

I had a decent number of followers, and was only on the website once every other month or so, but faced with quickly approaching student loans and a fairly weak portfolio, it only made sense.

Thus it began. As many of you saw, last week, a post went out everyday, the numbers slowly crept up, and I began to see the potential that Paige has been telling me existed for a long time. With that, this last week I decided to up the ante, to strive for at least a few days of two posts, just to see the reaction, and get a feeling of when you would be reading.

Paige nailed it. On Monday, you guys put my numbers close to the total views and visitors that I had for all of last week, and the week only got better. We redesigned some of the options on the website, I started tagging my posts, and updated Tumblr too.

Thanks in large part to Paige, but the quiet support that many of you have shown just by visiting, my whole attitude has turned around as the wedding gets closer.

I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you. To all of you. You’ve helped ease the stress of looming loan payments and wedding detail finalization. If there is any topic you want to see written about, or you want some advice on here, just click that gif on the right, or connect with me here.

You’ve helped me, and I’ll help you. Have a great weekend, and smile a little bit, you deserve it.

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Don’t Waste Your 20s

“You’re 20s are when you put in all your work.”

I’ve been given this advice a few times since graduating, especially as I hunt for jobs and ways to manage my student loans. The problem with working away your 20s though, they go fast and before you realize it you’re 40 and still haven’t done anything.

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The theory is, if you work hard in your 20s, then you get to enjoy your 30s and 40s, settle down, have a family. The thing is though, none of that is guaranteed.

Study abroad and school sponsored trips are great, but why should your traveling days be limited to your time as a student? Yeah, those European trips are probably behind you until you’ve got the money to drop, but you can still take a road trip, or explore what your state has to offer.

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Consider that many graduates are on at least a 10-year payment plan for their loans. If you waited until you paid those off, you’d be 33 or 34 before you ever started seeing the world. On top of that, if you went to grad school or pursued a doctorate, you’ll be even older before you look away from those awful monthly payments.

If you went to college, that’s at least 16 years of your life spent in school, so don’t you think your 20s are an even better time to head out? Why would you wait any longer?

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Paige and I have been lucky to travel like we have, but the key is to make the most of the connections you have. In North Carolina, California, New York, we have family all over the country, and you probably do too. Instead of waiting for a boring family reunion, see if you can stay with family while you explore a new place.

We’ll get a taste of Japan on our honeymoon, but the US still has so much to offer, we’re ready to see it. Whether it’s with Chicly USA, or we just pack up and head out one day, Paige and I are going to live in our 20s, not just watch them slip by.

Of course, you have to figure out what is best for you, but at least do it. You control where your life goes, so go have an adventure.

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Images courtesy of Paige Hogan

The Engagement Center: Because You Can Totally Force Learning

There’s a reason “The Engagement Center” will be the “first-of-its-kind”, because it’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard.

I’m not a fan of No Child Left Behind, and agree that everything should be done to make schools accessible to kids everywhere, but part of the problem with public education is the idea that you can force someone to learn.

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This new truancy center, which Mayor Bloomberg announced yesterday, is designed to give students who miss 38 days of school some extra help.

This is my point. A focus, funding, should be given to the students that at least show up to school. Who are we kidding, what makes you think that a kid that misses 38 days at a regular school is going to go a special “engagement center” that targets all of the kids just like them.

North Carolina isn’t even respectable right now as far as education is concerned, but at least when I was in school, if you missed 10 days you automatically failed.

Students that continuously underperform, or are ushered through the education process with a less than acceptable standard, do not benefit anyone. The only outcome is the devaluation of a high school diploma, which leads to the inflation of a college degree which I discussed in my post, Student Loans: What They Don’t Understand.

38 days missed is over a month. Let that simmer for a minute. Do you really think that’s a student that is going to let anyone force them to learn. It’s time to hold students responsible for their lack of concern. Taxpayers shouldn’t front the bill because someone doesn’t want to be helped.

You can take the kid to school, but you can never make them learn.