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WCU spring enrollment shows positive growth, retention rate

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By Julia Duvall

The spring semester is in full swing at Western Carolina University and with that comes the census report the university publishes each semester.

For the first time since 2020, total headcount enrollment climbed at WCU, with the spring semester total enrollment numbers topping out at 10,742, which is an increase of almost 200 students compared to spring 2023.

“We are very pleased with our spring enrollments, especially the increase in retention and persistence rates,” said WCU Provost Richard Starnes. “Changes to our advising model enacted this year build on our long-standing institutional commitment to student success as we work to support our students through to graduation. That work is not done, but clearly the hard work of our dedicated and committed faculty and staff are showing very positive results.”

In the inaugural fall 2018 and 2019 terms of N.C. Promise, WCU enrolled its two largest first-year cohorts ever and successive years of record-setting enrollment elevated those levels, but then the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a recruitment and retention drought.

Total spring enrollment crested in January 2020 and total fall enrollment crested in August 2020. Headcount enrollment began receding in 2021, fueled in part by the record-setting, pre-pandemic entering classes that began graduating in record numbers.

Fall first-year enrollment bottomed out in fall 2021 (1,745) but rose in Fall 2022 (1,947). In fall 2023, WCU enrolled the second largest first-year cohort ever (2,108), second only to the inaugural year of N.C. Promise which was fall 2018 with 2,237 students.

As the pandemic abated, the flow of new undergraduate enrollment tributaries began to swell.

WCU has experienced increases in transfer student enrollment for four successive fall semesters and four successive spring semesters. Fall-to-spring, first-year retention rates have rebounded for successive spring semesters as well with spring 2022: 86.5%; spring 2023: 87.1%; and spring 2024 with about nine out of ten students returning at 89.9%.

“Spring 2024 enrollment gives reason to celebrate all the faculty and staff who helped WCU weather the pandemic drought,” said Phil Cauley, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate enrollment. “New undergraduate enrollment gains in successive fall and spring terms bode well for keeping positive enrollment momentum going.”

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