CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University’s commitment to its region is nearly as strong as its commitment to its students – it seems most of Chancellor David Belcher’s sentences end with “Western North Carolina” or “this region.”
So what will it take to make Western greater?
Students from Western North Carolina, which tends to lag the rest of the state in wages and employment, need help with scholarships, Belcher says in the accompanying video.
“Even though Western Carolina University is one of the most affordable institutions of higher education in the country, there are so many students in this part of the state who can’t afford our affordable tuition,” he says.
“Forty-two percent of our student population is eligible for Pell Grants, and that is a really significant sign of real financial stress.”
One form of support is need-based aid from the state. Western Carolina works constantly to find additional scholarship support from virtually any source, Belcher says, so students don’t have to leave school or take part-time jobs that distract them from their studies. The university wants students to finish on time for their own benefit and that of the state.
“If we had scholarship support, we could help our students be successful more quickly, and we think that would make us a much greater university,” he says.
Belcher describes how, as part of the process to adopt a new strategic plan, a Western Carolina delegation went on a seven-city listening tour in 2011-12 and settled on six areas in which to concentrate:
- Health care
- Innovation and technology
- Creative arts
- Hospitality and tourism
“They’re industries that are here, and they needed our support,” he says. “We’re focusing on those six areas where we think we have the greatest opportunity to strengthen this part of the state, which we think will translate to jobs and economic mobility for the people of this region.”