Western Carolina University – A Recent Graduates Review

UC Lawn

I have people ask me quite regularly, “How did you like going to school at Western?” Generally the answer I give them is along the lines of “Yeah, I enjoyed it.  The area is beautiful and it’s a great university.”  Although my response is honest and quite true, it doesn’t do my 4 years and $40,000+ justice.  So perhaps I will start a new trend where students will review and disclose the good and bad from their university experiences.  After all, they have no problem reviewing a $16.00 movie, $30.00 meal from a restaurant, or a $400.00 electronic device on the internet.  I would think students would be jumping at the gun to disclose information about something that consumed 4 years of their life (perhaps 20 more paying their loans off) and a majority of their parents income.  I could sugar coat this and make my Alma Mater look perfect, but I would prefer to inform rather than persuade.  Let us begin with my completely honest and un-biased experience as a Computer Information Systems major:

The Good:

  1. Small Classes – Not once during my time at WCU was I part of a class with over 40 students.  At the very most, you might find a general studies course required by 15 others majors where the class size would be slightly larger.  For the most part, especially in upper-level, major dependent classes where students have been slowly weeded out, there were typically about 15-20 students per class.
  2. Office Hours – Almost all of my professors had flexible office hours where we could independently go to resolve any problems or confusion from class.  Many also provided personal contact information where we could reach them at any reasonable time (personal cell phones, email, etc.).
  3. Excellent Curriculum – I can only speak from my experience within my major, but our curriculum was modern and relevant enough to keep us technologically with “the times.”  The technology I worked with in my major acquired me more job opportunities than the degree itself simply because the curriculum is cutting edge and ahead of other universities and technical schools.  The CIS program has been developing mobile web applications for over 2 years, whereas a majority of programs are just now trying to work it into their curriculum.  We started working with and learning a mobile web framework while it was still in beta… If that’s not cutting edge, I’m not sure what is.
  4. Quasi-Excellent Professors (see “The Bad”) – A majority of my professors were highly professional and experienced within their field.  They taught the typically expected course syllabi but threw in a multitude of real-world, non-academic fundamentals that have proved extremely valuable.  Perhaps the most valuable experience was being treated as an employee rather than a student in some of my senior level courses.  I have no doubt that more than a few of my professors took a pay cut to be there and they were more than happy to pass their knowledge on to me.
  5. Safe – There are a large number of college campuses in North Carolina that I have spent time on and Western is one of the few where I would feel completely comfortable allowing my wife to walk around by herself at night (regardless, it is always a good idea to walk with a friend).  During my 4 year stay at Western, on-campus mind you, I can’t even recall seeing a fist fight.  I’m not saying the place is absent of crime because it’s not.  But no place would be with a population consisting of thousands of 18-23 year olds.
  6. Opportunities – My classmates and I were afforded multiple opportunities to stay ahead of the competition and make professional contacts.  Those who took advantage of those opportunities are reaping the benefits.  I had the opportunity to do several service learning projects, real business consulting, and internships that resulted in multiple business contacts and even several job opportunities prior to graduation.  The CIS program and the College of Business did an incredible amount to introduce us to professionals in our field.  If you want the opportunities and are willing to work for them, WCU provides them.
  7. Location – Western Carolina University cannot be beat in regards to scenery and location.  I have spent time on other mountain campuses as well and it just doesn’t compare.  Other NC campuses may have more historic buildings, fountains, and statues than WCU, but they don’t have the Blue Ridge Parkway or National Parks next door.  If you enjoy the outdoors, hiking, kayaking/rafting, fly-fishing, climbing, etc., you will not find a better campus.  If you want shopping centers, malls, bars, clubs, and other stores within walking distance of your college campus, you will be sorely disappointed in WCU.  You can find all of that in its entirety close by, but you will need to drive to get there.  If you do enjoy the shopping scene, you will find it 45 minutes east in Asheville.

The Bad:

  1. Lackadaisical Students – It is not fair to make this a description of WCU in general, they make up a majority of the population at ALL schools.  It is slightly fairer to make this description of students in general these days that simply do not care and have no sense of individual responsibility.  As a graduating senior, I attended a meeting in the campus theatre where students were given the chance to speak out against or question the ill-conceived tuition increases that were to raise tuition significantly for the next several years.  Out of the miniscule 8 or so students that thought it was important enough to show up, 6 were graduating seniors whom would not even be affected by the increase.  If the UNC system or WCU administration is planning something that will adversely affect the students or their education, you can guarantee that having more sandwich options at the Chic-Fil-A on campus is a higher priority to the student body.
  2. Academic Direction – Western is known for a lot of things but during my time there: art programs, marching band, music programs, and theatre programs.  Navigating to the WCU homepage at any given point, you will likely find a majority of the headlines on the homepage are related to one of the aforementioned topics as they are pushed, funded, and promoted heavily.  That is all well and good and I am not here to criticize the arts (I enjoy them myself), but students are leaving with a lot of debt and no jobs in those fields (I know more than a few).  I rarely ever hear anything from the WCU administration about the majors or programs with the highest job outlook in the country: engineering, mathematics, information technology, computer science, math, nursing, business, etc.  I spent a majority of my time at Western with a CIS lab containing servers that failed weekly and lost our academic work and outdated work stations that couldn’t run VMWare or Visual Studio.  Fortunately, they are updated now and I was finally able to utilize them during my final semester.  The constant focus on liberal arts and what appears as the ignoring of majors that WCU should be actively trying to attract students towards completely baffles me and will likely baffle and deter talented potential students.
  3. Quasi-Outdated Professors – As mentioned earlier, a majority of my professors were excellent.  However, like any school there are a few professors that have been there too long and lost their edge.  This isn’t the case with most areas of study, but since technology changes on a yearly, or even monthly basis, it is only a matter of time before a person gets left behind if they haven’t been in the field.  I had a few professors who had been in Academia/Higher Education for such an extended period of time, they didn’t fully understand recent technology or standards.  They were definitely a minority, but it slowed in-class learning as they were partially learning it with us.  Once again, it is not completely fair to say this about WCU because all other schools have the same problem.  Information Technology is an ever changing field that requires constant learning, especially if you are going to be teaching it.  To stay up-to-date in the field they teach in, the professors should go to training like all other IT or business professionals.
  4. Wastefulness – This is more of a gripe with the schools (massive) administration and their grandiose plans.  I will not speak about all the ridiculous wasteful spending that occurs at WCU but I would have looked at cutting back costs, a large chunk from the massively bloated administrative budget, before raising tuition or letting go of talented professors.  Just for reference, the Chancellors office alone had a 2010-2011 budget of $1.24 million dollars, which is more than most academic departments.

How successful a person will be depends little on the name of their university and what their school offers.  Rather, it depends mostly on how successful they want to be and how much work and effort they put into their studies while they are there.  A majority of learning, at least in my area of study, must be done outside of the classroom and requires a thirst for knowledge.  Western Carolina University was a fantastic place to be an undergraduate and if I could go back, I would choose WCU every time.

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