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June 13, 2024

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WCU Sees Significant Enrollment Milestone

During the spring semester, Western Carolina University achieved a significant enrollment milestone. For the first time since 2020, the total enrollment at WCU increased compared to the previous year, marking an upward trajectory after three consecutive years of decline caused by pandemic-related student losses.

The pandemic-induced enrollment decline created a period of decreased student numbers, which has gradually been resolving as those cohorts graduate and are replaced by larger incoming freshman classes. This trend indicates a positive shift in enrollment figures.

The spring semester boasted a total enrollment of 10,742 students, representing an uptick of nearly 200 students compared to spring 2023.

Provost Richard Starnes expressed satisfaction with the spring enrollments, particularly highlighting the improvements in retention and persistence rates.

WCU experienced a surge in enrollment in 2018 and 2019 due to N.C. Promise, resulting in its largest first-year cohorts ever. However, the pandemic brought about challenges in recruitment and retention.

Total enrollment peaked in January 2020 for the spring semester and in August 2020 for the fall semester. The decline in headcount enrollment from 2021 onwards was partly influenced by the graduation of the record-setting freshmen classes of 2018 and 2019.

The lowest point for fall first-year enrollment was reached in fall 2021. With the pandemic subsiding, new undergraduate enrollment began to rebound. In fall 2023, WCU enrolled its second-largest first-year cohort ever, showcasing a positive trend in enrollment numbers.

Additionally, WCU saw significant improvements in student retention, particularly evident in the retention rate for freshmen returning for the spring semester, which rose to 89.9% this year compared to 87.1% in spring 2023 and 86.5% in spring 2022.

Furthermore, WCU has witnessed consecutive increases in transfer student enrollment for both fall and spring semesters over the past four years, indicating sustained growth and momentum in enrollment.

Phil Cauley, associate vice chancellor for undergraduate enrollment, emphasized that the successive gains in new undergraduate enrollment across fall and spring terms set a promising trajectory for maintaining positive enrollment momentum.

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