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WCU maintains steady enrollment numbers for 2021 spring semester, adds graduate students

By Geoff CantrellSpring enrollment

Students in WCU's new Experiential Outdoor Education program helped lead to an increase in graduate students this spring.

Amid the pandemic and a recession, total enrollment at Western Carolina University has dipped only slightly for the 2021 spring semester, while the number of graduate students enrolled moderately increased over previous years.

There are 11,284 students enrolled this semester compared to 11,434 this time last year. There are 1,697 graduate students, up from 1,660 in spring 2020; with undergraduates recorded at 9,587 now vs. 9,774 then. The fall to spring retention rate was 86.5 percent.

The 2021 data was compiled by WCU’s Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness following completion of the 10th day of spring classes, which is known as “census day.” Enrollment numbers are considered preliminary until verified and files sent to the University of North Carolina System Office.

The semester began Jan. 25 with classes delivered via remote instruction. On Monday, Feb. 15, classes will resume as originally scheduled through in-person or hybrid instruction. Courses originally scheduled as online will continue that modality for the spring semester.

WCU experienced a new record of 12,243 students enrolled for the 2020 fall semester. Spring enrollment numbers at institutions of higher education are typically lower than fall enrollment as some students graduate in the middle of the academic year while others do not return for a second semester for reasons ranging from academic to personal, university officials said.

“As the Catamount community enters a new year and a new semester, WCU remains consistent and focused on student success and helping individuals achieve their goals,” said Chancellor Kelli R. Brown. “While I am pleased with these overall numbers in enrollment and retention, this institution never forgets that it’s the students behind these numbers who matter.”

The graduate enrollment growth reflects an adaptable selection of residential programs in Cullowhee, programs based at the Biltmore Park instructional site in Asheville, fully online programs and hybrid programs that combine in-person classes with online instruction.

“Amidst the pandemic, our graduate faculty and programs continue to facilitate a movement toward more flexible delivery modes to enable more graduate student professionals to build their academic credentials, even while they experience changes in family and job responsibilities,” said Brian Kloeppel, dean of Graduate School and Research. “Graduate enrollment continued an upward trend with notable increases in master’s degree programs in Business Administration, Human Resources, Social Work, Sport Management, the new Experiential Outdoor Education, and the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program. Our graduate students are learning and growing by building their educational credentials, thereby enabling them to experience a more secure future for them, their family, and their community.” 

For more information about graduate programs, visit the Graduate School website, email or call 828-227-7398.

For more information on undergraduate programs go to or call the Office of Undergraduate Admissions toll-free at 877-928-4968.

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