A larger number of sophomores are wandering the Western Carolina University campus these days, thanks to a record percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate students who returned for their second year of college this past fall. The university’s freshman-to-sophomore retention rate topped 80 percent, allowing WCU to achieve one of the major goals of its “2020 Vision” strategic plan five years ahead of schedule. The record retention rate of 80.06 percent is 2.2 points higher than the fall 2014 rate of 77.88 percent and nearly 14 points higher than in 2006.
“Increasing our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate to 80 percent by the year 2020 is spelled out in our strategic plan,” said Tim Metz, WCU assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness. “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.”
A total of 1,624 new first-time, full-time freshmen enrolled at WCU last fall. The academic profile of the freshman class 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 remained 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. It was a slight decline from fall 2014’s record.
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 last 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 last 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.