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Caliber of student could rise as admissions get more selective

A surge in students applying to Western Carolina University has allowed the college to be more selective.

Despite a rise in applications –– tripling over three years –– enrollment at WCU has not risen significantly. The bigger pool has allowed the school to seek a higher caliber student, said Chancellor John Bardo..

The school has raised its academic standards, as measured by the average GPA and SAT scores of new students. The SAT went from 1023 to 1033 between 2003 and 2009. In 2003, the GPA was 3.25, compared to 3.48 this year.

“That’s a really, really big change in the nature of students,” Bardo said.

Bardo said the admissions office was somewhat blindsided by the surge last year. Had they known how many applications were on the way, they would have been more picky during the vetting process. Instead, the university over-admitted on the lower end early in the admissions process rather than holding out, Bardo said.

Now that strides have been made in raising the average SAT and GPA of incoming freshman, admissions will begin weighing other criteria, such as extracurricular activity involvement by students.

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“We now have a lot more opportunities to change the way we think about admissions. What are the things we should be looking at other than GPA or SAT?” Bardo said. “Who is it we should be admitting?”

The university has historically struggled with student retention. Some students come to Western for their first two years, then transfer to one of the larger state universities rather than spending all four years at WCU. Improving the retention rate has been a long-standing goal, and the deeper pool of applicants will allow the university to target students who really want to be at WCU.

The retention rate at WCU has gone from 67 percent in fall 2007 to 71 percent in fall 2008. Bardo projects 75.9 percent for this fall — slightly above the national average of 75.4 percent retention rate.

“For the first time in our university history, we are above the national average in retention rates,” Bardo said.

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