Proposed plan to borrow $30 million for student athletics – $60 million needed

Western Carolina University has proposed an $86 annual increase for student athletic fees for the 2022-2023 school year. If the proposed fee increase is accepted, it would increase the total from $782 to $868 annually. 

According to WCU Athletic Director Alex Gary, the student athletic fee increase is a part of a plan to borrow $30 million from students for WCU athletic facilities. The fee increase would specifically focus on structural issues within athletic buildings. WCU plans to fix issues within the Phillips-Jordan Fieldhouse, EJ Whitmire Stadium and the Camp Gymnasium. Other issues they plan to address are facilities not meeting Americans with Disability Act (ADA) standards. 

“Part of being a preeminent regional comprehensive university is having successful athletics,” said Gary. “This increase will specifically address several facility issues that will aid in the advancement of the university’s athletics program and therefore provide greater visibility to the university.”

The WCU Student Government Association Facebook page explains that another reason for the increase is due to water damage, inadequate space for athletes and staff, sinking floors and outdated facilities. 

Many students do not agree with the proposed increase in the athletic fee. In a poll conducted by The Western Carolinian, 93% of student voters did not agree with the increase. 

“I think there are big issues with misappropriation of funds that the student body has been trying to bring to the leadership’s attention…So, maybe instead of asking for more money for the athletic department, they should be using what they have more responsibly,” said Ashley Anderson, a junior at WCU. 

Anderson believes that funds would be better allocated to services such as Counseling and Psychological Services provided on campus. She believes that with the tension of coming out of a pandemic, there should be a greater focus placed on mental health services. 

“I’m not a big fan of the increase in athletic fees because I don’t even go to half of the sporting events here and I still have to pay,” said Madison Jordon, junior at WCU. “I feel that with NC Promise, WCU should not be asking for so much money. We are not that much farther in tuition than other UNC system schools and they advertise NC Promise like it’s something that is super helpful which, don’t get me wrong, it is. But if you keep raising tuition to get jerseys for your sports teams, it’s unreasonable.”

According to the University of North Carolina System, WCU is the third least expensive school for overall resident tuition and fees in North Carolina, with Elizabeth City State University coming first and UNC Pembroke coming in second. All three schools participate in NC Promise, a $500 per semester tuition plan. 

If the proposed student-athlete fees increase, that will make WCU have the third-largest athletics fee out of the 17 UNC System schools in North Carolina. WCU currently has the seventh-highest student athletic fees within the UNC System.

The reason behind this is that “state funds can not be used for athletics, so they have to rely on ticket sales, sponsorships and student fees,” said WCU SGA President, Rebecca Hart. “We are located in a rural area and can’t generate ticket sale profits like Chapel Hill or NC State.”

For the proposed changes to be made, the facilities need around $60 million to cover all expenses. However, Chancellor Kelli Brown and student athletics do not think that the entire amount should be the student’s responsibility. The remaining $30 million would be fundraised, Hart said. 

“I think it’s important to highlight that a winning athletic program benefits the university as a whole,” Hart continued. “It boosts school spirit and enrollment rates. It brings in donors not only for athletics but also other programs. And right now, we don’t offer facilities that can recruit more amazing student-athletes. They tour our facilities and they are sad in comparison to other schools. Our track and field team is amazing, but the floor in their indoor practice facility in the camp building is sinking in. An investment in our student-athletes is an investment in our university.”