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WCU Stories

Pandemic Drives Demand for Professional and Graduate Programs

Students in a workspace


As Asheville’s population and economy look to recover from months of slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, regional professionals are increasingly seeking ways to develop their skills, increase their credentials and stand out among the competition for new opportunities and career advancement. Increased demand resulted in a record enrollment this fall for Western Carolina University’s Asheville-based programs, with a 10 percent growth in students served compared to fall 2019.

“WCU is committed to serving our community by offering the credential and degree programs Asheville needs for the metro area’s continued economic development and for the professional and personal well-being of its people” said Kevan Frazier, executive director of WCU Programs in Asheville.

Since consolidating its Asheville programming to a single, convenient location at Biltmore Park Town Square nearly a decade ago, WCU has continued to add programs to meet local need and demand.

Nursing students


“With recent additions such as a doctoral program in physical therapy and a master’s in experiential and outdoor education, WCU in Asheville now offers 15 graduate programs (four doctoral, 11 master’s) and two baccalaureate programs and serves nearly 800 students,” Frazier said. “These numbers will continue to increase as we expand our offerings to support the needs and interest of the region.”

As the programs are designed for the region’s working professionals, students find classes are flexible and convenient, with most offering evening sessions. While some programs increased online courses this fall in response to the pandemic, face-to-face classes continue and follow CDC and university guidelines for safety.

Offerings include programs in sectors such as business, health care, education, counseling, public affairs and technology.

WCU in Asheville also offers workshops and certificate programs to fill the training needs in the region – whether for large or small companies, nonprofit or for-profit, or people preparing to enter or re-enter the workforce. Some sessions are just a few hours, others take a few weeks to cover the material.

“We create programs that help professionals develop better communication, organizational and technical skills, make improvements to business processes and learn how to be more effective managers and leaders,” said Jill Thompson, associate director of professional development in WCU’s Division of Educational Outreach.

Two students talking


Programs are offered in business, human resources, finance and accounting, customer service, marketing, nonprofit management and leadership, as well as programs for educators and other specializations. And the overall structure of WCU’s programs is designed to make educational attainment easier for busy professionals and others interested in acquiring more knowledge to improve their work and lives.

Many of the programs are currently being offered online as a way to provide safer options during the COVID-19 pandemic and to deliver remote training alternatives for professionals working from home.

“Several of our successful certificate programs like ‘High Impact Leadership,’ ‘Digital Marketing’ and ‘Event Planning’ are being held as live online sessions through the fall,” Thompson said. “We’ve also updated the leadership programs to include the Gallup StrengthsFinder, added a diversity and inclusion component and expanded ethics in leadership.”

“We create programs that help professionals develop better communication, organizational and technical skills, make improvements to business processes and learn how to be more effective managers and leaders...”

Other recent program updates include offering “Project Management” in a shorter ‘basics” format with more advanced topics coming soon like SCRUM and AGILE, and adapting the “Event Planning” series to include more advanced topics.

“As a resource for companies in the region, we also are customizing training in specific niche areas,” Thompson said.

The breadth of WCU’s growing slate of offerings means the Asheville instructional site likely offers something for almost everyone in the region.

Professionals wanting to learn more can do so either at one of the virtual open house events that rotate between Asheville and WCU’s main campus in Cullowhee or by exploring the full graduate degree and professional development program offerings online.

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