The spring semester is underway at Western Carolina University, bringing with it the release of the university’s semesterly census report. In a noteworthy development, total headcount enrollment at WCU has risen for the first time since 2020, reaching a spring semester total of 10,742 students. This marks an increase of nearly 200 students compared to the spring of 2023.
WCU Provost Richard Starnes expressed satisfaction with the spring enrollments, emphasizing the positive growth in retention and persistence rates. He highlighted changes to the advising model implemented this year, reinforcing the university’s longstanding commitment to student success and the ongoing efforts to support students through to graduation. Starnes acknowledged that while there is more work to be done, the dedicated faculty and staff have contributed significantly to these positive outcomes.
The introduction of N.C. Promise in the fall terms of 2018 and 2019 led to WCU enrolling its largest first-year cohorts during those years. However, the subsequent impact of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a recruitment and retention downturn. Total spring enrollment peaked in January 2020, followed by a peak in total fall enrollment in August 2020. Headcount enrollment saw a decline in 2021, influenced in part by record-setting pre-pandemic classes graduating in large numbers.
After reaching a low point in fall 2021 with 1,745 first-year enrollments, numbers rose in fall 2022 (1,947) and reached the second-largest first-year cohort ever in fall 2023 (2,108), second only to the inaugural year of N.C. Promise in fall 2018 with 2,237 students.
With the easing of the pandemic, WCU has seen consistent growth in transfer student enrollment for both fall and spring semesters over the past four years. Additionally, first-year retention rates have rebounded during successive spring semesters, including spring 2022 (86.5%), spring 2023 (87.1%), and spring 2024, with approximately nine out of ten students returning, amounting to 89.9%.