WCU bucks national trends with continued growth

“Western Carolina University is growing.” It’s an often-spoken statement of pride and excitement from WCU Chancellor David Belcher, and he has every reason to be proud.

U.S. college enrollment rose to a peak in 2010, fueled by an economic downturn that left people scrambling to improve their education, and therefore their career opportunities, during a time of high unemployment. In the decade leading up to that year, enrollment climbed 37.2 percent nationally. WCU’s growth followed suit, even surpassing the trend with a growth of 40.5 percent.

Since 2010, however, U.S. college enrollment has been falling. According to the most recent numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics, by 2014 there were more than 812,000 fewer students on college campuses nationwide.

That’s not the story at WCU. During the same period (2010-2014), Western Carolina’s total enrollment climbed more than 10 percent. When WCU’s official fall 2017 enrollment is reported on Sept. 5, the university anticipates reporting growth of more than 20 percent in the last 10 years (since 2007).

Enrollment becomes official 10 days after the start of classes, and when the tally is complete, Western Carolina University will report record total enrollment numbers for the fifth time in the last six years and expects to once again break the all-time record for the size of its entering freshman class.

An often-heard question – from parents, some alumni, peer institutions and community members – is why? Why is this regional institution, situated in the far western corner of the state, drawing in so many students? Local population growth does not mirror WCU’s. In fact, many area counties have lost population in recent years.

The answer to “why” isn’t simple or singular. Leading up to the official enrollment announcement Sept. 5, we’ll bring you a story every day that will help shed light on why students are clamoring to be Catamounts. Stay tuned.