2022-2023 Catalog

Historical Review

Western Piedmont Community College was chartered by the North Carolina State Board of Education on April 2, 1964, as a member of the North Carolina Community College System. The Board of Trustees, comprised of prominent citizens from Burke, McDowell, and Caldwell counties, assumed responsibility for the College and elected Dr. E.W. Phifer, Jr. as its first chair. From the very beginning, the citizens of Burke County demonstrated interest and strong support for their College by approving a state-required bond issue with an unprecedented margin of seventeen to one.

Appointed by the Board of Trustees in the fall of 1964, Dr. Herbert F. Stallworth served as the institution’s first president. With offices located in Morganton’s City Hall, the first classes were offered the following year at Central School, stores, church education buildings and other rented spaces in the area. Over 400 full-time curriculum students were admitted in the fall of 1966 when construction began on a permanent campus.

In August of 1967, Dr. Gordon C. Blank became president. Three buildings on the new 132-acre campus were occupied on March 25, 1968, and the first degrees were granted in June. Western Piedmont was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges that same year and was well along the way toward fulfilling its purpose as a comprehensive community college. Mr. H.D. Moretz, Dean of the College and member of the staff since its founding, assumed the position of acting president upon Dr. Blank’s resignation in 1978. Dr. Wilmon H. Droze served as president from 1979-1981 and provided new directions for Western Piedmont Community College.

The campus bookstore was modernized and enlarged; all buildings were certified accessible to the handicapped; and grant funds permitted an expanded program for the hearing-impaired. In honor of two outstanding friends of the College, the administration building and the science building were dedicated as W. Stanley Moore Administration Hall and Frank C. Patton Science Hall.

Dr. Jim A. Richardson served as the fourth president of Western Piedmont from 1981 to 2005. To improve management practices, a planning and evaluation process was implemented to assist in the identification of both short-term and long-range needs. By 1986 these activities had resulted in the introduction of Cooperative Education, twelve new occupational programs, transfer degrees in the Performing and Visual Arts, and a record breaking annual enrollment of over 10,000 curriculum and continuing education students.

A successful blueprint for the PROGRESS campaign in 1987 raised $1.3 million locally toward the construction of a Learning Resources Center. With $2.7 million in state funds, the 46,000 square feet structure contains a library, conference rooms, drama studio, media services center, faculty offices and classrooms. The Phifer Learning Resources Center opened in the fall of 1989.

Western Piedmont attracted national attention with a replica of Senator Sam J. Ervin’s home library and the annual Constitutional Issues Forum. The College named Hildebrand Hall in honor of local educators Johnny and Abby Hildebrand.

With annual enrollments exceeding 13,000 students, Western Piedmont Community College revised its “Master Campus Plan” to direct campus development into the twenty-first century. With funding from an approved state bond and matching funds from the county, the College dedicated a new 42,000 square foot building named the Robert P. Carr Business Technologies Center in September 1997. The College acquired an additional 209-acres of land from the State in 2000. The Rostan Horticulture Center opened in 2002 to provide classrooms and office space for the horticulture program. A 25,000 square feet K Building was added on the Richardson Complex in 2003.

Dr. Jim W. Burnett became the College’s fifth president in 2006. The Health Sciences building (17,500 square feet) opened in January 2008 and includes classroom space for chemistry, medical assisting, medical laboratory technology and nursing. (The building was re-named Jim W. Burnett Hall in 2015.) Construction began for the Emergency Services Training Center in Fall 2007.

The Foothills Higher Education Center opened in August 2009 and houses WPCC's Division of Workforce Continuing Education, the Appalachian State University Center at Burke, and offices for Western Carolina University, Lees-McRae College, and Montreat College.

In 2013, WPCC successfully completed a critical step in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) reaccreditation process, receiving an evaluation of "No Findings or Recommendations," a very rare and coveted report from the On-Site Reaffirmation Committee. The College was later reaffirmed by SACSCOC through 2024.

In 2014, WPCC celebrated its 50th anniversary and welcomed Dr. Michael S. Helmick back to Western Piedmont as the sixth president of the College.  Dr. Helmick served as Vice President for Academic Affairs from 2007 until 2011 and returned to Western Piedmont to replace Dr. Jim Burnett who retired after 41 years of service.

Western Piedmont Community College completed development of a new strategic plan in 2015 after a yearlong effort involving students, faculty and the community. The five year plan (2016 - 2021) included a new vision statement and was centered around five strategic goals including student success, employee development, workforce development, community engagement and outreach, and institutional enhancement.

In 2016, the Western Piedmont Foundation completed another record year of giving for student scholarships along with professional and community development programs. In addition, the year's Annual Giving Campaign marked record giving from 100 percent of full-time employees, the Western Piedmont Community College Trustees and all members of the Western Piedmont Foundation Board of Directors. This level of giving has only occurred two times in the College’s 51 year history with the previous year being 2014.

2017 was a busy year on campus as various building and renovation projects were completed or continued. This included a new building for the College’s Mechatronics program, a new kiln building and renovations to Rostan Hall to accommodate needs for the Professional Crafts program, a new off-campus space for the College’s new Cosmetology program, and renovations to the library to include a new Academic Success Center in Phifer Hall. In addition, plans were finalized to renovate space in Phifer Hall to provide a new campus café and space in H Building to provide more modern facilities for the Burke Middle College.

In 2018, renovations began on H Building on the main campus to create a permanent consolidated space for Burke Middle College and the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture/Arts and Mathematics) Academy. Work also continued on renovating Phifer Hall to develop a student center, including a new student café and common areas.  Preparations continued for partnerships between WPCC and the new western campus of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics which is scheduled to open in 2021.  Finally, the College unveiled a new marked trails system on campus for walkers, runners and bicycle enthusiasts to enjoy.

On March 19, 2020, the Western Piedmont Community College Board of Trustees named Joel D. Welch, Ph.D., PE, the seventh president of the college, following Dr. Helmick's retirement. On May 4, 2020, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program announced that Dr. Welch was selected as one of 40 leaders for the 2020-21 class of the Aspen Rising Presidents Fellowship. This Fellowship is a highly selected leadership program preparing the next generation of community college presidents to transform institutions to achieve higher and more equitable levels of student success. 

In 2021, WPCC completed development of Vision 2025: The 2021-2025 Strategic Plan. The five year plan included a new vision and mission statement and is centered around four focus areas including equitable access & success, learning outcomes, completion and transfer and post-graduate outcomes.