It’s beginning to sound like a broken record, this talk of broken records when it comes to enrollment at Western Carolina University where, for the third consecutive year and the seventh time in the past eight years, the institution has experienced increases in both the size and academic qualifications of its student body.
Just one year after total student enrollment topped 11,000 for the first time ever, the 2018 fall total student headcount stands at 11,639, representing a 5.5 percent increase over last year’s previous record. Total enrollment at WCU has increased by 2,589 students, or nearly 29 percent, since 2008, when the total student tally was 9,050.
The total number of new first-time full-time students surpassed the 2,000-mark for the first time in university history, with a freshman class of 2,189, a 10.5 percent increase over last fall’s freshman class of 1,980. The average GPA of this year’s freshman class is 3.92, up from 3.83 last fall and another high-water mark for the institution. Enrollment also is up among continuing students, highlighted by a freshman-to-sophomore retention rate that is holding steady at 80 percent.
Among additional enrollment statistics of note are an increase of almost 37 percent in the number of first-time, first-year students in WCU’s Honors College for high-achieving students, up from 331 last year to 453 this fall, and a 10.5 percent increase in new graduate students, up from 580 last fall to 641 in 2018.
University officials attribute the enrollment surge over the past several years to several factors, including several high-demand degree programs, interest in the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, the growth of the Honors College, and new and renovated residence halls and dining facilities providing the type of amenities demanded by today’s students, in addition to the campus’s mountain location and access to outdoor adventure activities.
Another factor having an impact beginning last fall is the NC Promise tuition plan, which lowers the line-item cost of tuition to $500 per semester for North Carolina residents and $2,500 per semester for out-of-state students at WCU and two other University of North Carolina System schools.
“I like to think of WCU’s recent enrollment trend as a propulsion rocket,” said Phil Cauley ’83 MS ’90, assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate enrollment, who has crunched application, admission and enrollment numbers for three decades. “Fueled in large part by the dedication of faculty and staff who embraced a vision for excellence and growth, WCU has ascended steadily, sustainably and strategically since 2011. Then along comes NC Promise, and that is like another splash of jet fuel on our already upward enrollment.”