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Enrollment hits 12,000 for new record; driven by gains in distance, graduate populations

WCU first-year students get fired up before participating in the annual Freshman Run at the season-opening home football game on Aug. 31. They are beginning their academic careers in Cullowhee as the university marks its all-time high in total enrollment.

Total enrollment at Western Carolina University has crossed the 12,000-student threshold for the first time in the institution’s history, thanks in part to notable increases in distance education and graduate student populations and a surge of returning undergraduates.

The latest tally of 12,167 students comes just two years after total enrollment at WCU eclipsed 11,000 students for the first time, and it marks the eighth time out of the past nine years that the number of students enrolled at the university has risen.

According to preliminary census data, total enrollment at WCU grew by 4.54 percent this fall semester, up 528 students from last fall’s total of 11,639. This year’s crop of new first-time, full-time freshmen stands at 2,083. That number is down slightly from last year’s record freshman class of 2,189, but the decline was not unexpected, said WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown.

“This still represents the second-largest first-year class in WCU history, and that decreased size is by design,” Brown said. “As part of an ongoing effort to increase our total enrollment strategically and sustainably, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions delivered a slightly smaller entering first-year class for this fall compared to last fall. Despite the small drop in the size of the freshman class, however, we continue to see robust continuing enrollment.”

Chancellor Kelli R. Brown (right) greets the first-year students before the start of the Freshman Run.

The total number of undergraduate students enrolled at WCU this fall is 10,469 – another record. The university has 7,256 returning undergraduate students this year compared to 6,607 last year.

WCU’s Graduate School saw an enrollment increase of 5.33 percent, with 1,698 graduate students on the rolls this fall compared to 1,612 last year. Distance education enrollment grew by more than 10 percent, with 2,451 distance students this year compared to 2,215 in fall 2018.

The university also experienced an increase in the number of Hispanic students, up to 865 students this fall from 786 last year, an uptick of slightly more than 10 percent.

The enrollment numbers are from official census statistics compiled by WCU’s Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness. Although WCU classes began Monday, Aug. 19, enrollment is not official until after the 10th day of classes, referred to as “census day.” Even then, the numbers are not considered final until any errors have been corrected and the files have been submitted to the University of North Carolina System offices.

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