Imagine you woke up one day in early 2019, looked around, and noticed that overnight a second Webster had appeared.
And for that matter, a second Forest Hills.
In a very real sense, that has happened.
Spring enrollment at Western Carolina exceeded 11,000 students for the first time this year, nearly 8 percent more than last spring’s record of 10,229.
That’s up 799 students. By way of comparison, the population of Webster as of 2017 was 385, Forest Hills 382.
Also by way of comparison, WCU’s spring numbers checked in at 11,028 students. The population of Sylva is around 2,678, Dillsboro around 267.
In short, the population of WCU is triple the populations of the county’s four towns combined.
As a result of the growth, new construction is popping up like mushrooms after a summer shower across Cullowhee. With the addition of high-demand degree programs, marquee features like the growing Honors College and the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, in addition to the NC Promise tuition plan, which lowers tuition for in-state students to $500 a semester and out-of-state students to $2,500, expect the growth to continue.
WCU assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate enrollment Phil Cauley said, “We have been on a steady growth trajectory for the past decade.
“One of the factors,” Cauley said, “seems to be favorable word-of-mouth, from current students, who have good things to say to their friends at home about their academic experiences, the extracurricular activities and the affordability of being an NC Promise campus.”
For Jackson County, Western Carolina is a huge economic driver. Yes, it’s a source of traffic problems from time to time. It’s also a source of income for businesses all across the county and a source of livelihood for the staff and faculty that live in the four towns in the county.
On the flip side, Cullowhee is not one of those four towns. Unincorporated, the university has no town to turn to in order to address items usually addressed at the town level – water, sewer, roads – and fends for itself on many levels. In other areas, it turns to Jackson County government and other levels of government.
It’s an arrangement that has worked pretty well, and needs to continue to work well to ensure growing pains are kept at a minimum as WCU prospers and spreads its prosperity.
That’s a fact the new chancellor of WCU needs to be aware of as soon as his or her feet hit the ground running in Cullowhee.
And it’s a fact the entities that are in charge of planning roads, water and sewer, fire protection and public safety will need to stay on top of.
We’re confident they will. But we did want to pause for a moment just to stress the scope of the challenge here.
We’ll be adding more Websters as time goes by.