WNC’s mountain environment attracts students to universities

Lance Hickey
[email protected]
As the spring semester inches to a conclusion, students say the environment in the mountains remains a key factor in their decision to attend college in Western North Carolina.
The idea of living in the mountains seemed like a new experience and would be different, so they drew me in,” said Samantha Moe, a freshman studying communication science and disorders at Western Carolina University from Hastings, Minnesota. “Living in this area has made me more health cautious regarding what I’m breathing and making sure I get good exercise every day.”
Western Carolina University currently enrolls students from 99 North Carolina counties, 38 states and 53 foreign countries, according to university records.
“I love hiking and being in the mountains every single day,” said Tristan Turnbull, a sophomore music student at Mars Hill University. “I’m from a very flat area, the Mississippi Delta. Whenever I came here, I loved it a lot more. The air is cleaner.”
As a music student, living in the mountains allows for tremendous inspiration for students, Turnbull said.
The National Park Service continues to collaborate with the Environmental Protection Agency, state and local regulatory agencies and regional planning organizations to develop and implement new plans and ways to further reduce emissions to protect the parks’ air quality, according to a National Park Service record briefing.
“Western North Carolina and the southern Appalachian Mountains are actually considered one of the most biodiverse areas in the world,” North Carolina Arboretum Marketing and Public Relations Manager Whitney Smith said. “There’s just an abundance of plant species, tree species, anything natural in the world here.”
Students have the opportunity to experience this diversity by just stepping outside, Smith said.
“In terms of just overall mental health, hiking and exercise and even just walking is just one of the great benefits to mental health,” said Smith, a graduate of Appalachian State University, another state institution in the mountains. “They (students) have that opportunity here.”
Established in 1986, the North Carolina Arboretum is currently governed by a board of directors appointed by the UNC Board of Governors, the UNC President, the North Carolina Governor, the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives and the President Pro-Tempore of the North Carolina Senate, according to public records.
“We have a lot of a recreational opportunities here (at the Arboretum),” Smith said. “We have 10 miles of hiking and biking trails. We have over 65 acres of cultivated garden areas for people that are specifically interested in horticulture and landscape and with that we also offer educational opportunities for both adults and youth to learn more about the world around us. We offer 70 classes for our adult education program per semester,” Smith said.
The North Carolina Arboretum currently serves more than 26,000 students annually, Smith said.
“In order to live an active life you have to, you know, be active and be in a place that’s active,” said 24-year-old Tyler McCart, a senior mathematics student at UNC Asheville. “I believe that the mountains provide that for you with being able to go on hikes, being able to go on long walks, wherever that may be.”
The resources available to students on college campuses across the mountains also gives students another incentive to attend college in the mountains, McCart said.
“I can honestly say before attending UNCA I never once went on hikes, never once went camping, never once did anything (outdoors),” McCart said. “Going to UNC Asheville definitely influenced my different hobbies.”
According to university records, out-of-state students make up 10 percent of UNCA student enrollment for the spring 2017 semester.
“I think with being a student, you can’t always be a student,” said Darcy Davis, a sophomore biology student at UNCA from Toledo, Ohio. “First of all, you have to have outlets. Being so close to the mountains and, specifically the Blue Ridge Mountains, it really allows you for an outlet just to connect with nature and be more rounded, be environmentally cautious and appreciate what’s around you.”
The idea of living in an area warmer than Ohio largely convinced Davis to attend college in WNC.
Davis said she would recommend out-of-state students to attend college in WNC because of its diverse ecosystems.
In 1986, the UNC Board of Governors instituted a new policy requiring a cap of out-of-state freshman enrollment at 18 percent of total enrollment, excluding the North Carolina School of the Arts, according to records. The policy, though, does not apply to transfer or exchange students.
Students are not limited or confined to the area, but proximate to other impactful cities, enhancing the student experience, Davis said.
“With the mountain environment you get a lot of diverse ecology,” Davis said. “We can appeal to many different students and climates.”