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?

Student Loan Image

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.

College: Is It Worth It?

It’s been a well established factor of every American’s life since the late 90s that a college degree is required for a halfway decent future.

But is that really the case?

tumblr_muumxk9HyX1spokgpo1_250Gif via Chekovy.tumblr.com

As startups and 20-somethings launch their ways through the fog of the saturated job market, it’s left some people wondering if traditional colleges are actually providing an ROI that balances rising tuition costs.

Thanks to The Daily Beast, a list of the 20 colleges with the worst return on investment has been put into pictures. Feel free to peruse the list, and with a list of only 20 it will be easy to think that you’re in the clear.

If you are, that’s great, but more than likely, your next job application is still going to say that you’re not qualified, regardless of whether or not your school was fortunate enough to not make the list.

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I’ll offer my experience as an example.

The image above would be the essence of why we have to question the ROI of college. As tuition costs rose at the university I went to, though not on the list, the school still managed to find the extra money in couch cushions to get signs made that were totally misspelled.

So, as I look for my next job, lucky to be in New York, I too am wondering just how far a four-year education from a school that couldn’t spell university right is going to get me.

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I can gladly say that I met my wife in college, and some of the closest friends I have today I met in college, so I can’t say don’t go.

But when it comes down to dollars and cents, with high school grads developing the next great app and fast-growing businesses, I must encourage everyone to at least consider their options. Weigh the consequences for yourself, and most definitely don’t go longer than you need to.

If you’ve already graduated, struggled finding a job, and you’re considering grad school; reconsider those student loans and figure out if it’s really worth your time, effort, and money.