Western Carolina University has hit an all-time high in the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who have returned for their sophomore year as 80 percent of last year’s freshman class is back in school this fall semester.
That means the university has achieved one of the major goals of its “2020 Vision” strategic plan five years ahead of schedule, said Tim Metz, WCU assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness.
“Increasing our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate to 80 percent by the year 2020 is spelled out in our strategic plan,” Metz said. “To reach that goal five years early speaks volumes about the work our faculty and student support staff are doing to help ensure that students stay in school and remain on track to graduate.”
This year’s record retention rate of 80.06 percent is 2.2 points higher than last year’s rate of 77.88 percent and nearly 14 points higher than in 2006.
A total of 1,624 new first-time, full-time freshmen are enrolled at WCU this fall. In addition, the academic profile of this year’s freshman class has improved on all fronts, with higher average scores on the SAT and ACT entrance exams and higher high school GPAs than the previous year.
Total student enrollment at WCU remains steady, with a tally of 10,340 undergraduate and graduate students on the books as of the university’s official census day of Friday, Aug. 28.
Undergraduate enrollment is up slightly, increasing to 8,821, a 0.4 percent rise over last year’s tally. Graduate student enrollment is down by 4.8 percent, dropping to 1,519 from last year’s count of 1,595.
The decline is mirroring trends in graduate school enrollment across the state and nation because of an improving economy in which fewer people seek advanced degrees and a recent end to financial incentives for school teachers to seek advanced degrees in education, said Dale Carpenter, dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions.
Undergraduate programs in WCU’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology and the College of Health and Human Sciences saw some of the most significant growth in undergraduate enrollment this fall, said Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar.
“These programs supply graduates in the fields of engineering, technology, nursing and the health sciences, which are key to regional economic development and to meet the workforce demands of business and industry and the health care needs of the people of Western North Carolina,” Morrison-Shetlar said.
Western Carolina also experienced an increase in the diversity of its student body this fall, with a 16 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students, a 7.5 percent increase in the number of Asian students, and a 20 percent increase in the number of multiracial students.
Although classes began at the university Monday, Aug. 17, 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.
With the books closed on the 2014-15 student recruitment cycle, the Office of Undergraduate Admission now is hard at work building WCU’s freshman class of 2016, with more than 3,000 applications from high school students already submitted for next fall, said Phil Cauley, director of student recruitment and transitions.
The first of four scheduled Open House events for prospective WCU students and their parents is set for Saturday, Oct. 31. Additional events at WCU are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 14; Saturday, Feb. 20; and Saturday, March 12.