UNC system awards $557,000 to WCU to jump-start anticipated growth

CULLOWHEE — Western Carolina University will receive more than $557,000 in state funding designed as a first step toward helping the institution meet the substantial growth in enrollment projected by The University of North Carolina system to occur over the next decade.

The UNC Board of Governors announced the funding Friday (Jan. 14) at its monthly meeting, held in Wilmington.

“The Board of Governors grant provides an increase in our base budget to assist us as we begin to grow the university,” Western Chancellor John W. Bardo said. “The legislature realized that for universities such as Western, if we could grow substantially without any assistance, we already would have. This funding will help us grow by enabling us to do a better job of providing close, personal attention to students and their needs as they progress through their educational careers.”

The $557,864 in funding will allow Western to create and fill nine new staff positions and three new faculty positions to support Western’s projected enrollment growth from its current 6,400 students to as many as 9,400 students by the year 2008 — a nearly 50 percent increase. University of North Carolina officials are anticipating an influx of some 50,000 new college-going students in the coming decade, and Western is among the UNC institutions targeted to absorb a higher percentage of those students.

The majority of the funds will be used to augment a recent reorganization of student recruitment and retention activities at Western, under the newly formed Division of Enrollment Management. It will specifically be earmarked to support retention efforts by providing additional staff members in key areas that work directly with students.

The university will add four academic advisers; a director of cooperative education, who will guide Western’s “co-op” program combining paid, career-related work experience and academic study; an academic resource center coordinator, who will direct tutoring and other forms of learning assistance; a coordinator of technology, who will direct technological support for WCU students, the first in the UNC system to be required to have their own computers; and two secretarial support positions. The additional funds also will upgrade the director of the Writing Center to a full-time position, and provide for an additional $30,000 in student salaries for tutorial assistance.

“In order to meet the projections that have been set by the UNC system, we are seeking a balance of new enrollment growth and increased retention,” said Richard Collings, Western vice chancellor for academic affairs. “In effect, retention is a form of growth. If you increase the number of students who stay in school and who stay on track toward graduation, you will increase your total enrollment. I think these funds will give us a leg up on enrollment growth and improved retention, as well as increase graduation rates and decrease the time it takes a student to graduate.”

The Board of Governors money also will enable Western to hire three new faculty members, one each in three academic programs identified as high-interest areas of study for incoming college students — computer information systems, a fast-growing field of study in today’s high-tech world, and natural resources management and hospitality management, both of which take advantage of Western’s geographic location in North Carolina’s scenic mountain vacationland.