ASHEVILLE NC – One year after total student enrollment at Western Carolina University topped 10,000 for the first time in the institution’s history, records continue to tumble at WCU as this fall’s official enrollment stands at 10,382.
University officials say the 2.7 percent jump in the total student population over last year’s tally of 10,107 is driven in part by an increase in the size of the freshman class and another year of improved retention rates.
That’s the word from WCU’s Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness, which compiles official census statistics for reporting to the University of North Carolina system.
The number of first-time, full-time freshmen at WCU this fall is 1,745, up 8.1 percent from the fall 2013 freshman class of 1,614, said Tim Metz, assistant vice chancellor for planning and effectiveness.
The university’s freshman retention rate – the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who returned for their sophomore year – is nearly 78 percent, comparable to last year’s record of approximately 79 percent, Metz said.
The average high school weighted grade-point average for the freshman class this year is 3.74, up from last year’s overall freshman class GPA of 3.67, he said.
Although classes began at the university Monday, Aug. 18, enrollment numbers are 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 UNC General Administration.
Adjustments do need to be made on occasion, as was the case last year when the university announced a fall 2013 enrollment of 10,106 students, only to find that a coding error resulted in one student being missed in the preliminary count – and to an actual enrollment tally of 10,107.
Despite the fact that the dust barely has settled on the 2013-14 student recruitment cycle, the Office of Undergraduate Admission currently is at work sorting through applications for WCU’s freshman class of 2015.
In fact, more than 2,000 high school students already have submitted applications for admission for next fall, said Phil Cauley, director of student recruitment and transitions.
“Enrollment growth can’t be attributed to any one thing,” Cauley said. “Certainly, as the student enrollment has grown, word of mouth is a great advantage as there are more WCU students who are back in their hometowns talking up WCU. The momentum we’ve enjoyed from the growth helps with continued momentum, but that momentum didn’t just happen and can be attributed to a mix of strategies and many factors.”
Among those strategies, he said, is increasing the size of the overall pool of prospective students, emphasizing the importance of “fit” so that students select a college that is right for them, and focusing on university programming aimed at helping first-year students successfully make the transition from high school to college life.
The Office of Undergraduate Admission encourages students to visit campus, either through attendance at one of several Open House events held throughout the year or by participating in expanded weekday campus tour options, to see if WCU is the right fit for them, Cauley said.
The first of four scheduled Open House events for prospective WCU students and their parents is set for Saturday, Sept. 20. Additional events at WCU are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 22; Saturday, Feb. 14; and Saturday, March 21.
For more information on Open House at WCU, visit the website openhouse.wcu.edu.