Western Carolina University is famous for its beautiful campus and scenic view. Its population has just reached 10,000 plus and is exponentially growing each year.
As the student population increases, changes are being made to accommodate the students. The 2020 Vision for WCU works to make those necessary modifications.
Chancellor David Belcher said, “. . .When it comes to things like improving retention rates, there’s no end to that. I think we’re clearly making some strides in that regard, but we’ll never arrive. It’ll always be a journey. That’s sort of my take on it.
“When you put a strategic plan together,” he added, “you really are charting a course without understanding what the context will be down the road. When you read a strategic plan, we are always careful to say that it’s a plan in progress; it’s a working document.”
One of those plans calls for a parking garage to be built on campus, and this news is met with mixed feelings from both the faculty and student body.
When asked about the 2020 Vision, Dr. Pete Nieckarz commented, “I like the idea of becoming an institute who is engaged with the region.”
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.
“You don’t know how things will impact you, until they do,” said Dr. Carrie Banes Rogers, assistant professor in the school of teaching and learning.
One of the most difficult aspects of the beautiful WCU campus is the limited options, due to steep terrain, land available and money. Cullowhee is neatly nestled in the mountains and although that makes for a gorgeous view, it can become problematic as the school expands.
However, Belcher realizes the importance of this situation and how it affects the entire student body as well as the faculty and staff.
“Here’s what’s led us to this point of at least having this conversation [about a parking garage],” he said. “The master planners have been helping us trying to accommodate enrollment growth. How big are you going to get? Well, nobody really knows. We grew faster than we thought we were going to grow last year. [The master planners] did a complete analysis, and they said, ‘About 10 years from now, you’re going to need 2,400 extra parking spots based on the growth you’re anticipating.’ Then, they recommended a parking garage.”
In recent years, there has been an uproar of demand from students about building a parking garage, but they may not realize how much it will affect the parking costs.
UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro and UNC-Charlotte have parking garages. Parking costs at UNC-Charlotte are $405 for a full year. These costs apply to faculty, staff and students. If you are a commuter student, you can sign up for a two-day pass for $165/semester.
At UNC-Greensboro, there are several parking options that are already sold out for the year, including two of their parking garages, which cost $458 a year for students living on campus. If you drive a motorcycle, moped or scooter, you are in luck with a $55 annual parking pass.
UNC-Wilmington also has a parking garage with a $395 for their 2013-2014 school year. Park and Ride is $280 and part-time students pay $190.
Meanwhile at UNC-Chapel Hill, they use a student parking lottery to give spots to their students. However, parking permits are $11. This does not mean you can park on campus but are given a two-mile radius (+/-) from the UNC Bell Tower, according to UNCC’s parking webpage.
“If you feel your residence is outside the 2-mile radius, we will look at those on an individual basis. We make every effort to be sure the list is current however; there may be some left off the list,” read the webpage.
Compared to WCU’s easily affordable $96 parking fee, the numbers speak for themselves. However, if students want a parking garage at Western Carolina, the university has planned for that demand in 2020 Vision. Expect to see parking fees rise every year.
“There will always be someone complaining; you can’t make everyone happy,” said, junior, Hailey Hildebran, when asked about her feelings on a parking garage on campus.
Because of these rising fees, it is important for students to speak up in MyCat surveys and forums held by the Student Government Association. Through these outlets, the SGA and upper administration can learn the opinions about parking and other fees from their larger student body.
At the beginning of the current school year, a large forum took place in order to receive that feedback.
Belcher said, “There was a big forum the week before school started, and school leadership comes and Sam Miller put that all together. But, they had several hundred students in a forum, and people got up and asked them really fabulous questions. And, [the committee] even reported later in another forum where I was at and said, ‘Yeah, they just like got up and said, wait a minute, what are you talking about?’ and they loved it. They said, ‘The students are keeping us honest.’ So yeah, there have been student forums. I think it’s really good because they’re the people who use the campus more than anybody else. They live here, and they go to class here.”
Belcher added “I believe what [the committee] did was say, ‘OK. Here’s a pen,’ on this thing that’s erasable. ‘Draw your routes every day, going to class, how you get places, or how do you go places.’ One of things they found, which we all know it, but maybe we didn’t think about it. The fastest way to get from point A to point B often is through a parking lot. So that was pretty fascinating.”
Traveling through parking lots is an extremely unsafe way to walk across campus, Belcher mentioned. Many parking lots are small and congested making it difficult for drivers to see students walking among the vehicles. There have also been a few pedestrians hit by cars in this semester alone. With the 2020 Vision plan, new roads and demolished parking lots will assist students not only getting to class quicker but making sure they do so safely.
Belcher also hopes that the new entrance to campus will help with parking issues, traffic and CatTran bus routes.
“The new entrance into the university, Savannah Road will come across and into the campus,” said Belcher. “I don’t mind this entrance here, but I just think it will facilitate traffic and transportation if buses coming from HHS and can come just straight into the campus. I also, just from an emergency management perspective . . .Let’s say there’s an emergency of some sort and people need to get away. Well, it’s easy to do in Chapel Hill. I mean, there are stoplights, but there are lots of roads. There are a grand total, I think I’m right, of five entrances and exits to this campus. . .I think we actually need for accessibility issues. I think we need a new entrance.”
In addition, the budget cuts hurt everyone and every project.
“Well, that’s a great question,” said Belcher when asked if the education system will see an ending in budget cuts. “I think so. I mean it’s hard to say that with any great degree of assurance. We were cut this year. Because we met our enrollment targets last year and because we had more students coming in and had to pay tuition fees, so we actually had money to spend. So, we got more money than we lost this year. But, we still would have had 3.5 million more dollars if we hadn’t been cut. And next year, they’ve already slated to cut us again. . .So we know we’re going to be cut a million dollars next year.”
He added, “The legislature meets in a short session in May-June, and they can decide to appeal that. So there is an opportunity, and believe me, we are going to push really hard for that.”
Belcher explained that while North Carolina cannot give money for residence halls, which students pay for in their tuition fees. However, the state financially takes care of academic buildings.
“North Carolina has a history, that other states that I’ve lived in no longer have,” stated Belcher. “North Carolina has a history of giving academic buildings to the universities. We didn’t have to put out money for that Health and Human Sciences building. That’s pretty wonderful. Now, the state has to pay for it, so they have to have money to spend. Where that comes from, of course, are taxes.
“We need a new Natural Sciences building,” he added. “That’s something that worries me, and that’s going to be extremely expensive. I don’t know with the economy like it is, I don’t know where that’ll come from.”
Looking past the financial hardships and how to pay for, Belcher is excited about other aspects featured in 2020 Vision. To see Western Carolina embrace the student body with improvements for them and recognize the history of old campus, his favorite aspects deal with those topics.
“Sometimes, you have opportunities that you couldn’t have dreamed of, so you just seize them,” he stated. “And sometimes, you put a plan together with the very best insights you have at the moment, but when you get the time to implement a certain piece of it, you do, ‘Well five years have passed. This doesn’t make as much sense anymore.’ But, it’s always a work in process, but I think our broad commitments we will achieve them.”
Belcher enthusiastically mentioned his passion to see old campus on the hill where Moore, the Old Student Union and Brown are located, like Dr. Sam Miller, vice chancellor of student affairs. Miller stated in a previous article that he wants to see old campus return to its original vitality.
Belcher explained, “What I really love about [the plan]. . . the way they’re really working to – Graham up there is an old building that names to come down – but Moore then because that iconic building at the top of the hill. I can sort of imagine steps going up perhaps or something like that. So, I think, in a way, that it’s taking an historic building that means a lot to alums who were here 40, 60 years ago and revitalizing it for contemporary use, and it sort of symbolically links the historic campus to the emerging campus down here. So, I’m pretty jazzed about that.
Ultimately, for Belcher, it always comes back to the students.
“I want more things for students. And, part of it is, we need them in order to be able to take care of a growing student population, and one of those things that’s on there is not just a renovation but a building onto a Brown cafeteria. As wonderful as our dining hall is, I mean, there are times that I think students are struggling to get in there within a certain period of time and get sustenance,” said Belcher with a laugh.
Whatever the plan looks like, Belcher stressed his favorite aspect of Western Carolina: the intense focus on the success and enriching college experience for every Catamount student.
“I would say anything focused on the students, that’s the most important stuff. I just say, and this is one of the things I like about Western, it’s an institution that is centrally focused on the students. We do a lot of stuff, but it basically all comes back around to the students.”
In his final words during this interview, Belcher’s love for WCU burst forth when explaining how this plan will move forward and keeping the identity of the home for all Catamounts.
“. . .We can’t lose that. As long as I’m here, we’re not going to lose that.”
For more information on the master plan, go to Western Carolina’s Office of the Chancellor webpage and click on the “WCU 2020 Plan” link.