By Julia Duvall
Western Carolina University was successful in its request for funds for a new engineering facility and program expansion from the North Carolina General Assembly, for the recently approved 2023-2025 biennial state budget.
Earlier this year, WCU identified expansion of its engineering programs as its top legislative priority, an effort backed by the University of North Carolina System.
“This investment in expansion of WCU’s engineering programs comes at a crucial and pivotal moment as student demand and industry demand for engineering talent are both rapidly increasing,” said Randy Collins, dean of WCU’s College of Engineering and Technology.
WCU received funding for the replacement of the current engineering building. The total amount authorized for this project is $95.3 million, with $2 million of that total allocated in fiscal year 2024-25 for advance planning.
The budget also allocated funds to expand WCU’s College of Engineering and Technology programming to support robotics, energy, controls and automation concentrations. The amount allocated is $3.5 million recurring funds beginning in fiscal year 2023-2024.
“Funding for engineering expansion will allow WCU to meet critical demand in the regional labor market and to serve Western North Carolina to its fullest potential,” WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown said. “I’m personally thankful for our legislators from the region who sponsored bills on behalf of WCU during the budget process including Senators Corbin, Hise and Moffitt, and Representatives Johnson, Gillespie, Clampitt, Pless and Hardister.”
The new engineering facility and funding will enable expansion for programs and laboratories in high demand areas, enabling WCU to adapt to evolving technology and industry needs.
“WCU is a catalyst for the growth and investment of technologically oriented businesses and industry in the region and state and educate the next generation of engineering and technology professionals to fill the talent pipeline,” Collins said. “Our faculty and staff work closely with students to address critical challenges facing industry through partnerships, applied research and design projects.”
WCU is the only university with an engineering college west of I-77 in North Carolina.
“The funding we have received will change the trajectory of WCU engineering and provide the infrastructure and resources critically needed to provide a 21st century cutting-edge engineering education for our growing demand of talented engineering students and our industry and business partners,” Collins said.
WCU also received funding for other institutional priorities including athletics and salary increases for faculty and staff to combat inflation and market pressures.
WCU was named as one of the UNC System institutions that provides an economic benefit to the university and the service region. Each of the 10 institutions will receive $1 million non-recurring funds in fiscal year 2023-2024 and an additional $700,000 in non-recurring funds for fiscal year 2024-2025. The 10 constituent institutions chosen developed and submitted a plan to UNC System President Peter Hans to show the economic benefit of their athletic department.
The budget also estimated WCU’s Division of Athletics to receive $1,164,615 in the 2024-2025 fiscal year from anticipated receipts from S.L. 2023-42, Sports Wagering/Horse Racing Wagering.
WCU faculty and staff will see a salary increase of 7% across the biennial budget with 4% allocated for the 2023-2024 fiscal year and 3% allocated for the 2024-2025 fiscal year. WCU’s Office of Human Resources will send information out to faculty and staff regarding the salary increases.
“Western Carolina University is incredibly grateful to the NC General Assembly for including its legislative priorities in the 2023-25 biennial budget,” Brown said. “The much-needed salary increases for faculty and staff will address the inflationary and market pressures we’ve seen over the past year and reflect the tremendous work our employees put in on behalf of our students.”