Western Carolina University

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Western Carolina University
Western Carolina University seal.png
Former names
Cullowhee Academy (1889–1905)
Cullowhee Normal & Industrial School (1905–1925)
Cullowhee State Normal School (1925–1929)
Western Carolina Teachers College (1929–1953)
Western Carolina College (1953–1967)
TypePublic university
EstablishedAugust 5, 1889; 133 years ago (August 5, 1889)
FounderRobert Lee Madison
Parent institution
University of North Carolina
Endowment$124.27 million (2021)[1]
ChancellorKelli R. Brown
ProvostRichard D. Starnes
Academic staff
Administrative staff
Location, ,
United States

35°18′35″N 83°11′00″W / 35.30972°N 83.18333°W / 35.30972; -83.18333Coordinates: 35°18′35″N 83°11′00″W / 35.30972°N 83.18333°W / 35.30972; -83.18333
CampusDistant Town, 589 acres (2.38 km2)
NewspaperThe Western Carolinian
ColorsPurple and Gold
Sporting affiliations
NCAA Division I FCSSoCon
Western Carolina University Logo.svg

Western Carolina University (WCU) is a public university in Cullowhee, North Carolina. It is part of the University of North Carolina system.[5]

The fifth oldest institution of the sixteen four-year universities in the UNC system, WCU was founded to educate the people of the western North Carolina mountains.[6] WCU provides an education to students from 48 states and 35 countries.[7] Enrollment for the Fall 2020 semester was 12,243 students.[8]


The Joyner Building served as a combination classroom, auditorium, and administration facility from its completion in 1913 until the 1930s, when other buildings relieved pressure on Joyner. It was destroyed by fire in 1981, at which time it was the oldest building on campus.
McKee Training School & Hoey Auditorium, two of many buildings on Campus built with help from the Works Progress Administration during the late 1930s and early 1940s. McKee Hall, as it has since been rechristened, was named for Gertrude Dills McKee, who was a great supporter of the university throughout her public life.

In 1888, the residents of Cullowhee desired a better school for the community than was offered in public schools of that day,[9] organized a board of trustees and established a community school that came to be known as Cullowhee Academy.[10] Founded in August 1889 as a semi-public secondary school and chartered as Cullowhee High School in 1891 (also called Cullowhee Academy), it served the Cullowhee community and boarding students from neighboring counties and other states.[11] The founder, Robert Lee Madison, wanted to provide an education for the young people in the region and train teachers to spread education throughout the western part of the state.[12][13] In 1893, through the efforts of Walter E. Moore, representative from Jackson County, the North Carolina Legislature authorized an appropriation for the establishment of a normal department at the school "for the purpose of training teachers".[10] This designation became the first publicly funded normal school in North Carolina.[14]

In 1905, the state assumed title to the school's buildings and property and made it a state institution. That same year, the school's name was changed to Cullowhee Normal & Industrial School. In 1925, the school's name was changed to Cullowhee State Normal School. During its years as Cullowhee Normal, the stated purpose of the school was to train teachers for the North Carolina public schools. A coeducational institution, Cullowhee Normal trained over two thousand teachers by the mid-1920s.[15]

Over the next forty years, the school expanded its curriculum and evolved into a junior college, and in 1929 it was chartered by the Legislature as a four-year institution under the name Western Carolina Teachers College. Called "the Cullowhee experiment", Madison's idea became a model for the other regional colleges in the state.[14]

The demand for both liberal arts and other programs led to an expansion of the school's offerings.[14] Postgraduate studies and the Master of Arts in Education degree were added to the curriculum in 1951. In 1953, the name "Western Carolina College" was adopted.

In 1967, the institution was designated a regional university by the North Carolina General Assembly and given its current title, "Western Carolina University."[16] On July 1, 1972, WCU became a member of the University of North Carolina system.[17]

Precis of the university's history[edit]

Year Name and Levels[18]
1889 Semi-private school
1891 Cullowhee High School
1893 First state appropriation; Normal Department established; First graduating class
1905 Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School
1912 Junior College rank established; Secondary school discontinued
1913 First college-level (one-year) degree awarded
1925 Cullowhee State Normal School
1929 Western Carolina Teachers College; Senior College rank established
1931 First Baccalaureate degree awarded
1951 Graduate degree established
1952 First master's degree awarded
1953 Western Carolina College
1967 Western Carolina University
1972 A constituent institution of the University of North Carolina


General location[edit]

Map of North Carolina highlighting Jackson County, NC

Western Carolina University is located in Jackson County, in the unincorporated village of Cullowhee, North Carolina. The university operates learning centers in both Asheville and Cherokee with programs offered online and at various community colleges.[19][20][21][22] The main campus is located in a valley of the Tuckasegee River, between the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, 52 miles (84 km) west of Asheville, North Carolina and 5 miles south of Sylva, NC. The university lies close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Reservation (officially known as the Qualla Boundary), and some of the nation's most beautiful national forest lands. At an elevation of 2,100 feet (640 m), but located in a thermal valley, the campus enjoys the best of all four seasons but is shielded from most extreme temperatures by surrounding peaks. Cullowhee typically enjoys a rather mild winter season. In fact, Cullowhee can go some winters with little to no snowfall.[23]

While winters in the valley are generally mild, snow is not unusual in the higher elevations of Jackson County around Cashiers or Balsam. In nearby Sapphire Valley, snowmaking machines maintain prime snow skiing conditions from mid-December through February. Locations in Jackson County are also within reasonable driving distance to ski slopes at Maggie Valley. The Blue Ridge Parkway is usually closed during winter weather, and has become popular with cross-country skiers during those times.[24]

The many rivers, streams and forests surrounding Cullowhee, combined with the mild climate of Southern Appalachia, offer many opportunities for outdoor activities. Climbing, hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking, and camping are a few of the outdoor activities nearby.[25] Cities within a three-hour drive of campus include Atlanta, Georgia;[26] Charlotte, North Carolina;[27] Knoxville, Tennessee;[28] and Greenville, South Carolina.[29]

Main campus in Cullowhee[edit]

The main campus in Cullowhee offers most of the amenities of a small town, including twelve residence halls,[30] two full-service cafeterias, a food court with fast-food outlets, health services, counseling, a bookstore, library, a swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, movie theater, jogging trail and quarter-mile track, hiking and biking trails and intramural fields.

The campus center is the A.K. Hinds University Center.[31] The UC contains the university post office, a movie theater, video and commuter lounges, student organization HQs including the Student Government Association and Last Minute Productions, meeting rooms and office spaces. Outside of the UC is the "Alumni Tower", built in 1989, on the 100th birthday of the university.[32] Other newly constructed facilities include the Center for Applied Technology (which houses new engineering laboratories); an expanded student life center; new athletic facilities; and a new student support center.

A $13.5 million 73,000-square-foot (6,800 m2) Student Recreation Center, was completed over the summer of 2008.[33] Harrill Residence Hall was renovated to add 6,000 square feet (557 m2) and bring the 1971 building to LEED standards of environmental friendliness and energy efficiency, and re-opened in fall 2012.

The new $46.2 million Health and Human Sciences Building opened for use at the start of the 2012–13 academic year, also built to LEED standards. This facility is the first project on the Millennial Initiative property and houses WCU's educational and outreach programs in the College of Health and Human Sciences. The four-story facility is home to the undergraduate and graduate programs in social work and communication sciences and disorders; graduate programs in physical therapy and health sciences; and undergraduate programs in athletic training, emergency medical care, environmental health, nutrition and dietetics, nursing and recreational therapy.[34]

Asheville campus[edit]

WCU's educational facilities in Asheville focus on professional and graduate degrees for working students.

Cherokee campus[edit]

The Western Carolina University Cherokee Center in Cherokee, North Carolina, was established in 1975 in cooperation with the tribal government of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.[35] The center serves Cherokee and the surrounding communities and is available to all of the people of the region. Their services include the application process, transcript request, scholarships, internships placement, high school recruitment.

Organization and administration[edit]

Robert Lee Madison, founder and first president

The university is led by Chancellor Kelli R. Brown, the chief administrative officer, along with Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Richard Starnes and several advisory groups.[36][37] The institution operates under the guidance and policies of the Board of Trustees of Western Carolina University.[38] WCU also falls under the administration of University of North Carolina system president Thomas W. Ross. The university moved to a provost and senior vice chancellor model in 2004.


  • 1889–1912 Robert Lee Madison
  • 1912–1920 Alonzo Carlton Reynolds
  • 1920–1923 Robert Lee Madison
  • 1923–1947 Hiram Tyram Hunter
  • 1947–1949 William Ernest Bird
  • 1949–1956 Paul Apperson Reid
  • 1956–1957 William Ernest Bird
  • 1957–1968 Paul Apperson Reid
  • 1968–1972 Alexander Simpson Pow
  • 1972 Frank Hamilton Brown, Jr. (Acting)


  • 1972–1973 Jack Kenneth Carlton
  • 1973-1973 William Hugh McEniry (Acting)
  • 1974–1974 Frank Hamilton Brown, Jr. (Acting)
  • 1974–1984 H.F. Robinson
  • 1984–1994 Myron L. Coulter
  • 1994–1995 John H. Wakeley (Interim)
  • 1995–2011 John W. Bardo
  • 2011–2017 David Orr Belcher
  • 2018–2019 Alison Morrison-Shetlar (Acting)
  • 2019–Present Kelli R. Brown

Vice-Chancellors for Academic Affairs

  • 1996–2004 Richard J. Collings
  • 2004 Robert Vartabedian


  • 2004–2010 Kyle R. Carter
  • 2010–2011 Linda Stanford (Interim)
  • 2011–2012 Beth Tyson-Lofquist (Interim)
  • 2012–2013 Angela Laird Brenton;
  • 2013–2014 Beth Tyson-Lofquist (Interim)
  • 2014–2017 Alison Morrison-Shetlar
  • 2018–2019 Carol Burton (Acting)
  • 2019 Alison Morrison-Shetlar
  • 2019–Present Richard Starnes

University media[edit]

The university produces the following publications and broadcasts:

  • Western Carolina Magazine]:[39] A seasonal publication primarily for alumni and friends of WCU, Western Carolina Magazine contains features on university people and programs, alumni updates, and news and events.
  • Inside WCU:[40] A weekly electronic newsletter for the faculty and staff of WCU, The Reporter features news, events and campus community updates.
  • MountainRise:[41] An open, peer-reviewed, international electronic journal published twice a year by the Coulter Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning at Western Carolina University for the purpose of being an international vehicle for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL).
  • All-Western Carolina: The All-Western Carolina radio program airs during half-time of Catamount Sports Network broadcasts and highlights WCU's academic all-stars and happenings on campus.

WCU students, faculty and staff also contribute to:

  • WCU on iTunes U[42] Faculty and students are podcasting using WCU on iTunes U service from Apple Inc. This media repository was publicly listed on the iTunes U Colleges and Universities listings in August 2009.

Academics and research[edit]

Academic structure[edit]

Western Carolina University's academic programs are housed in six colleges: Arts and Sciences, Business, Education and Allied Professions, David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts, Health and Human Sciences, and Engineering and Technology. WCU also has an Honors College and Graduate School, and offers several interdisciplinary programs.[43]

Academic programs[edit]

With its main campus located on the site of an ancient Cherokee Indian village[44] and adjacent to the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains, Western Carolina has a commitment to the rich traditions of both the Appalachian and Cherokee cultures. The university's Mountain Heritage Center;[45] Cherokee Center;[46] Craft Revival Project;[47] Cherokee Studies Program[48] and WCU's partnership to preserve the Cherokee language[49] all reflect that influence – and provide educational resources for the region.[50]

Western is classified among "M1: Master's Colleges and Universities – Larger programs"[51] and in the elective "community engagement" category.[52] WCU is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award degrees at the bachelor, masters, intermediate, and doctoral levels. The university holds 21 program accreditations and is a member of more than 30 state and national associations and organizations to which its professional programs are related. In 2009, the Corporation for National and Community Service recognized WCU by awarding the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction for "exemplary commitment to service and civic engagement" on WCU's campus and beyond.[53]

As the sixth-largest producer of teachers in North Carolina, the College of Education and Allied Professions was the national winner of the Association of Teacher Educators' Distinguished Program in Teacher Education Award[54] in 2006. The college is also the 2007 co-winner of the Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award[55] presented by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The Christa McAuliffe Award nationally recognizes outstanding programs in teacher education at AASCU member institutions.

Western Carolina's Forensic Research Facility (commonly referred to as the "FoREST") is just the second facility of its kind nationally.[56] The decomposition research station is an extremely valuable resource for researchers and forensic anthropology students to study natural decomposition.

The residential Honors College was first of its kind in North Carolina.[57] Newly accepted students are invited to live in one of two exclusive residence halls on campus. The Honors College is one of a few in the state to offer a residential option and among a few nationwide to award graduates with a special honors diploma. The college began in 1998 with 77 students and has grown to approximately 1,400. For entering freshman, the Honor's College average weighted GPA is over 4.00 and the average SAT score is 1380. The college is a member of the National Collegiate Honors Council.[58] In August 2009, Balsam Hall, the first part of a $50.2 million Honors College residential community located at the center of campus opened, housing 426 students. In Fall 2010, Blue Ridge Hall completed the community and add an additional 400 beds for Honors College students and Teaching Fellows.[59]

In the spring of 2000, WCU was officially designated a National Merit sponsoring university, just the fourth institution of higher education in North Carolina, public or private, to receive that distinction[60] The university grants scholarships to students who qualify as National Merit Finalists. The Western Meritorious Award for Finalists provides a four-year scholarship, which covers the equivalent amount of in-state tuition, fees, room, and board, to National Merit Finalists, who also receive a computer.

The 2012 edition of the U.S. News & World Report guide to "America's Best Colleges" ranks Western Carolina University 14th[61] among public universities in the South that offer master's degrees.

In 2015, the North Carolina General Assembly approved the NC Promise Tuition Plan, a tuition reduction plan to make three universities - WCU, Elizabeth City State University, and University of North Carolina at Pembroke - more affordable and accessible. The NC Promise began in the fall semester of 2018 and drastically reduces the tuition cost for students. In-state students pay $500 a semester and out-of-state students pay $2,500 a semester.[62] Attendance has increased for three consecutive years with the total attendance as of Fall 2020 at 12,243 students, being the ninth time in the past ten years record enrollment has been recorded.[63]

Centers, institutes, and affiliates[edit]

Community focus, economic development, scholarly research, business development, preservation of the Cherokee & Appalachian Mountain cultures, and the advancement of technology & public policy are the guiding foci of Western Carolina's Centers, Institutes & Affiliates.[64]

  • Center for Rapid Product Realization[65]
    • Carolinas MicroOptics Triangle
    • Carolinas Photonics Consortium
  • Center for Study of Free Enterprise (CSFE) [66]
  • Corporation for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI)[67]
  • Center of Professional Selling and Marketing
  • Mathematics Tutoring Center[68]
  • Cherokee Studies[69]
    • Projects and Initiatives from Cherokee Studies
    • Cherokee Studies Academic Programs
    • Cherokee Center
    • Revitalization of Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources
  • John W. Bardo Fine & Performing Arts Center[70]
  • Center for the Support of Beginning Teachers[71]
  • Mountain Heritage Center[45]
  • The Public Policy Institute[72]
  • Ramsey Regional Activities Center[73]
  • Small Business & Technology Development Center[74] partner
  • Writing and Learning Commons[75]
  • Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines[76]
  • Speech and Hearing Clinic[77]
  • Myron L. Coulter Faculty Commons for Excellence in Teaching and Learning[78]
  • Southern Appalachian Biodiversity and Ecology Center[79]
  • Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement[80]
  • Local Government Training Program[81]
  • Mountain Area Pro Bono Health Care

Student life[edit]

Residential life[edit]

The main campus at Cullowhee has residential facilities for students. These include twelve residence halls,[30] two full-service cafeterias, and one food court with fast-food outlets. The halls house more than 4,500 WCU students each academic year.[82]

The campus residence buildings include one for graduate students, named Madison Hall, and one for married students. Special residence accommodations include honors residence halls and The Village, home to residential Greek and student organizations. Three new residence facilities were recently completed from a $50.2 million residence hall project. The newest residence hall is called Allen residence hall which opened in 2019 and houses over 700 freshman students taking the place of former Scott and walker residence halls.


Ramsey Center basketball and volleyball arena

As a member of the Southern Conference, Western Carolina University participates in NCAA Division I athletics. Intercollegiate athletics include football, men and women's basketball, baseball, softball, women's soccer, men and women's golf, men and women's track and field (Indoor and Outdoor), cross country running, women's volleyball and tennis. Catamount football is a member of Division I FCS and plays at Whitmire Stadium. The Ramsey Center is home to men's and women's basketball, and women's volleyball. Baseball is played at Hennon Stadium, softball is played at the Catamount Softball Complex, and the Catamount Athletic Complex is home to women's soccer, tennis, and track and field.

On November 29, 1980, Western Carolina's Ronnie Carr made the first intercollegiate three-point field goal, in a game against Middle Tennessee State University, a game WCU won 77–70.[83] The ball he used is on display at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Western Carolina and Appalachian State have a football rivalry in which they once competed in the Battle for the Old Mountain Jug on an annual basis.[84] The Catamounts football team was runner-up in the Division I-AA National Football Championship Game in 1983.[85]

Current NCAA sports at WCU include:

  • Men - Baseball, Basketball, Cross Country, Football, Golf, Track and Field
  • Women - Basketball, Cross Country, Golf, Soccer, Softball, Tennis, Track and Field, Volleyball

In 2016 the WCU dance team won third place at the NDA Nationals dance competition, performing in Daytona Beach, Florida.[86]


Concerts and recitals[edit]

The Schools of Music and Fine and Performing Arts offer a variety of events featuring students, faculty, and outside performers. These cultural opportunities are typically relatively cheap, and students can often attend them free of charge.[87]

Pride of the Mountains[edit]

The Pride of the Mountains is the largest college marching band in the Carolinas and Tennessee. As of Fall 2014, the marching band includes just over 500 members, making it one of the largest marching bands in the United States. The band is open to all Western Carolina students regardless of class or major, with approximately 60% of its members non-music majors.

In 2014, the band performed in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with 510 band members participating. Announcers described their performance as "This is the largest band this parade has seen in decades", "This is the best of the best", and "They don't mess around at Western Carolina".[88][89][90]

The Pride of the Mountains also performed at a Carolina Panthers halftime show in 2011.[91] The band was also the special guest at the Bands of America Grand National Championships in Indianapolis in 1998, 2003, 2008 and 2012, an honor given to only one college band in the United States each year. In addition, the band was also a special guest at the Bands of America Regional's held in Atlanta in 1995, 2006, 2010, and 2011. In 2009, the Pride of the Mountains was selected as one of the five best collegiate marching bands in the nation by the College Band Directors National Association and featured in the book "Marching Bands and Drumlines: Secrets of Success from the Best of the Best" by Paul Buyer.

The band is the 2009 recipient of the Sudler Trophy awarded by the John Philip Sousa Foundation.[92] They participated in the 2011 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, and won the most votes in a "best band" in the parade poll hosted by KTLA-TV.[93]

Greek life[edit]

WCU is home to a wide range of Greek fraternities and sororities, as well as several councils and societies.[94] The Greek community offers many social opportunities to enrich college life. Greeks get personal guidance in planning their curriculum and choosing classes and instructors, and assistance with registration and financial aid. Chapter study sessions, educational programs, tutoring, and study partners and teams offer support for developing and maintaining study skills. Greeks are recognized for their academic successes through Greek scholarship and awards programs and honor societies such as the Order of Omega. According to 2011–12 figures from U.S. News & World Report, 3.4% of WCU's male undergraduate students are in fraternities, while 3.6% of female undergraduate students are in sororities.[95]


Greek Councils & Societies


Historically Black Fraternities

Historically Black Sororities

Professional Fraternity Association

No Council Affiliation

WCU student media[edit]

Housed in the Student Media Center (Old Student Union) on the hill area of campus are WCU's Student Media Organizations, which are open to all students and are produced by students.[97] The following organizations are a part of WCU Student Media:

  • WWCU-FM: WWCU-FM, Power 90.5, is the broadcast service of WCU and broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as Jackson County's only FM radio station.
  • WCAT: Cable & Internet radio station offering an eclectic mix of music chosen by student DJs, as well as original talk shows and artist interviews. It broadcasts on the campus closed-circuit television station 22.
  • TV 62: The student-run campus television station, offering original programing to the campus on channel 62. It is WCU's closed-circuit television station with offices located in the A.K. Hinds University Center, an organization offering original programming that allows students to showcase their short films, as well as announce events on campus and highlight recent sporting events.
  • The Nomad: WCU's Literature & Art magazine, published once a year in the Spring semester. Student staff members work together to compile student fiction, poetry, and art and distribute them at on-campus events.
  • The Gadfly: WCU's Journal of Social Criticism and Philosophy. Satirical pieces philosophically critiquing society-at-large in a humorous manner. Published once a semester.[98]
  • Western Carolinian Newspaper: A bi-weekly newspaper focusing on news and events relevant to the campus and surrounding community. Includes News, Features, Sports, and Arts & Entertainment sections. Available in print in the local area and on-line at www.westerncarolinian.com.[99]
  • The Western Carolina Journalist: An online newspaper ran by the Communication department covering news about WCU and the surrounding areas[100]
  • The Tuckasegee Valley Historical Review: The Tuckasegee Valley Historical Review is an annually published graduate history journal. The review publishes articles by WCU graduate students in history with a primarily local focus.[101]

Notable people[edit]




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