Warren Wilson College celebrates record freshman enrollment

Marla Hardee Milling
Special To The Black Mountain News

Warren Wilson College rolled out its N.C. Tuition Free program in October 2017 for North Carolina students who qualify for state and federal financial aid. The result—a staggering 246% increase in the number of freshman from N.C.

The freshman class consists of 250 students with 104 of them from North Carolina. It’s the largest freshman class in the college’s history and the largest group of N.C. first-year students that the college has enrolled for at least 20 years.

It was one of the very first initiatives Dr. Lynn Morton pushed into place soon after taking over as the school’s president in July 2017. She is Warren Wilson’s eight president and its first female president.

Warren Wilson College and president Dr. Lynn Morton welcomed the largest freshman enrollment in the history of the Swannanoa school this year.

“I noticed we didn’t have as many North Carolina students as I would have expected, so I started working with our Vice President for Enrollment and thinking about how we could specifically make college more affordable for North Carolina residents,” said Morton. “Between the two of us we came up with the thought of an N.C. Free option that would serve the state, serve our region in WNC as many students would like to go to school closer to home and help us raise our head count. As a work college, our students are foundational to how we get things done.”

When they announced the new plan, many students who were already considering going to Warren Wilson got the good news in the middle of their process.

Sierra Davis of Kernersville was one of them. “One day as I was filling out college applications, my mom said, ‘Did you hear that Warren Wilson added a plan for N.C. Free Tuition?’”

Davis had first learned about Warren Wilson from a college fair in 10th grade. She fell in love with the school, but didn’t think it would be a possibility to attend. “When I found out how much it cost, I thought it was my unachievable dream school.”

The tuition program changed her dream into a reality. 

She encourages prospective students to get a first hand feel for what Warren Wilson offers. “Warren Wilson is one of the schools that you don’t know what it’s like until you visit and talk with students on campus. Talk and engage with as many people as you can on campus and get a feel for it.”

Another student, Clairissa Hitcho of Fayetteville, says looking at a private college seemed risky because her family isn’t in a position to help support her financially. “I’m here completely on scholarships and loans,” she said. “Without the N.C. free tuition, it would be impossible for me to go to school here.”

She visited campus during her junior year of high school, before the free tuition plan had been announced. “I knew immediately it wasn’t like any other school. It’s a very unique and special place. The free tuition opens it up to people who are lower income and creates a more diverse population.”

The N.C. Free Program is funded through a reorganization of existing financial aid.

“We have scholarship dollars, as all institutions do, that donors provide and we reorganized those scholarships around this N.C. Free program and also our Milepost One Program, which is directed at the middle class,” explained Morton. “Milepost One is open to international students and those from any state who are from families making up to $125,000 a year. I call those the families who are stuck in the middle. They don’t qualify for state and federal financial aid because they make too much money but they don’t make enough to afford college, particularly for multiple children. School teachers are a great example of this. We have several recipients of Milepost One scholarships—we gave out about 33 of those this year—where both parents are school teachers and between the two of them they don’t make $125,000 a year."

The current student body population at Warren Wilson is 650. They anticipate that number rising to 850 students in three years, which they can accommodate in existing residence halls.

To qualify for the N.C Tuition Free program, admitted students must be North Carolina residents who are enrolled full-time, have financial need, and live on campus and participate fully in the Warren Wilson work program. The plan is guaranteed for four years, but students have to file a renewal FAFSA each year to confirm continued eligibility.

In addition, all admitted students are considered for merit scholarships, which can be as high as $18,500 per year.

Plus, students from middle income families who have a total income of less than $125,000 a year can apply for the Milepost One program. There are also work grants and other need-based aid to help students achieve their dream of going to Warren Wilson.