WCU enrollment sees a downtrend

Overall enrollment at Western Carolina University dropped to the lowest for a spring semester since 2018, with the largest reduction amongst male students, according to student census data collected Jan. 24.

Created by Andrew Schuler.

The university cites the persisting pandemic and its impact on student finances as the prime mover of the 2.7% decrease in enrollment from Spring 2021 to Spring 2022.

“Some students we’ve heard from have expressed the pandemic has been hard on them and they wanted a break before resuming their collegiate career, while others found it easier to move into distance education programs rather than face-to-face,’ Chancellor Kelli R. Brown said. ‘We are working hard and putting in place different strategies so that we can remain focused on student success and helping our students to achieve their goals.”

Against difficulties, Fall to Spring retention increased slightly for first-year, full-time freshmen; the retention rate came to 86.54% compared to 86.51% last year.

The Spring 2022 data is compiled by the university on the 10th day of classes each semester, which is known as “census day.” 

According to the data, 10,977 students are enrolled at WCU compared to 11,284 at the same time last year. That is an overall drop of 2.7%. 

The undergraduate student population saw an even larger decline, with the 9,287 undergraduates enrolled this semester depicting a 3.1% decrease from January 2021.

That reduction was primarily due to an enrollment drop amongst in-state students. In-state enrollment decreased 3.8% compared to Spring 2021, while out-of-state enrollment increased 4.3%. 

Meanwhile, male enrollment is 4.1% lower than last Spring, while female enrollment saw a more modest decline of 1.8%.

Data suggests the enrollment rate has been sinking the steadiest amongst male, in-state students. Between Spring 2021 and Spring 2022, the number of in-state male students decreased 4.4%. Though, both male and female out-of-state enrollment grew.

According to the current census, males comprise 41.8% of WCU’s student body, with 4,589 enrolled. The female enrollment sits at 6,388 this semester or 58.2% of the total headcount. This difference in male and female enrollment reflects a nationwide trend of declining male college enrollment.

According to Associate Vice Chancellor Phil Cauley, who oversees undergraduate enrollment and admissions at WCU, female enrollment has commonly surpassed male enrollment since the university’s inception for a myriad of reasons.

Male enrollment remained steady and comprised about 43% of the student body from 2013 to 2019. Still, that number fell below 43% for the first time in 2020 and has continued to slip.

The number of in-state students has also undergone a slip since 2019, hitting a high of 10,697 that Fall semester and 9,962 that Spring. At the same time, out-of-state enrollment rose, currently sitting at 1,551. 

Cauley said many factors are causing these trends, including the N.C. Promise Tuition Program – which has brought in more out-of-state students – and an overall decline in North Carolina high school graduates. Fall 2022 is projected to produce the fewest North Carolina high school seniors in decades.

“The birth dearth(or falling fertility rates) has led to a decrease in the number of students enrolled in high school and considering colleges,’ Cauley said. ‘The drop has been felt in North Carolina and is projected to bottom out with this year’s senior-class cohort.”

WCU’s Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness compiled the Spring 2022 data. The data is considered conclusive after being sent to and verified by the University of North Carolina System Office.