Enrollment records keep tumbling like dominoes at Western Carolina University, where the size of the student body and the freshman class both reached all-time highs in the fall 2016 semester.
The official enrollment number for fall 2016 is 10,805 students, smashing the old record of 10,382 students set in 2014. WCU’s 2016 freshman class totals 1,913 students, surpassing the old mark of 1,859 students set in 1972 during an enrollment boom near the end of the Vietnam era.
Total student enrollment increased by 466 students over last year, a 4.5 percent jump. That surge was driven in large part by a nearly 18 percent increase in the number of first-time, full-time freshmen. This year’s freshman class grew by 289 students over last year.
Phil Cauley ’83 MS ’90, WCU’s director of student recruitment and transitions, said many factors contributed to the size of the freshman class, including some that are external, such as growth in the numbers of high school seniors. In addition, the Office of Admission revamped its communications with potential students and school counselors and strongly encouraged students to visit campus. As a result, attendance at open house events and for weekday campus tours increased over prior years, with those coming to campus having a chance to see construction taking place on several exciting building projects, he said.
“The old adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ can be amended to ‘it takes a campus community to attract and retain a student’,” Cauley said. “Of course, word-of-mouth is the best advertisement, and the enrollment and retention gains that WCU has made in recent years mean more continuing students and graduates are sharing WCU success stories with friends, relatives and colleagues.”
The “retention” referred to by Cauley is the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate, the percentage of fall 2015 freshmen who returned in fall 2016 to start their sophomore years. WCU’s census report indicates that retention has remained steady since last year at just over 80 percent. That figure has risen about 14 points in the last decade.
Another factor in the growth in total enrollment over last fall is an increase in the number of students taking graduate courses offered by WCU. That number grew by 7.6 percent, from 1,519 students in 2015 to 1,633 students this year.
Brian Kloeppel, dean of WCU’s Graduate School and Research, said the jump in graduate enrollment is a result of a combination of factors including the quality of the academic programs, an increase in resources targeted toward marketing and student recruitment, and an effort to streamline application steps and reduce hurdles to enrollment.