CULLOWHEE – Total student enrollment at Western Carolina University has topped 9,600 for the first time in WCU history, thanks to an increase of nearly 3 percent in the size of the freshman class and an improvement in the university’s retention rate.
Enrollment for fall 2012 is 9,608, a 2.7 percent increase over fall 2011 enrollment of 9,352. The previous enrollment record of 9,429 was set in the fall semester of 2009.
That’s the word from WCU’s Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness, which compiles official census statistics for reporting to the University of North Carolina system.
The number of first-time, full-time freshmen at WCU this fall is 1,551, up 2.85 percent from the fall 2011 freshman class of 1,508, said Melissa Wargo, assistant vice chancellor for planning and effectiveness.
The average high school weighted grade-point average for the freshman class this year is 3.63, up slightly from last year’s overall freshman class GPA of 3.61, Wargo said.
The university’s freshman retention rate – the percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who return for their sophomore year – is 73.67 percent, an improvement over last year’s retention rate of 72.03 percent, she said.
University officials attribute some of the growth in enrollment to increased student interest in several undergraduate programs, including engineering, health and the human sciences.
James Zhang, interim dean of the Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology, said that the number of entering freshmen who have declared a major in engineering or have signed up for pre-engineering courses doubled, jumping to 36 this semester from 18 last fall.
Although some of those students will change majors before officially entering the program, that level of growth in one year signals that students are interested in WCU’s new stand-alone engineering program, Zhang said.
This semester marks the first cohort of entering freshmen since the UNC Board of Governors in February authorized Western Carolina to offer the bachelor of science degree in engineering with a concentration in electrical engineering. WCU had previously partnered with UNC Charlotte to jointly offer the bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering.
According to preliminary numbers, total enrollment in programs in the College of Health and Human Sciences grew by 11 percent over the previous year’s enrollment, with a whopping 12.5 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment.
Students in those programs, which were located across four buildings, are now studying in WCU’s new Health and Human Sciences Building, a $46 million, 160,000-square-foot facility that features technologically advanced clinical and laboratory spaces.
Other features include multiple student collaborative learning spaces, three simulation labs, videoconferencing and tele-health capabilities, and a therapeutic pool for teaching and performing aquatic therapy. Faculty members will be able to view live video feeds of interaction between patients and students, and host guest speakers who are off-site. In addition, the building’s size and parking will allow for growth of unique clinics that support community needs.
The facility is the first to be constructed on 344 acres WCU acquired across N.C. Highway 107 from the main campus as part of the Millennial Initiative.