UNC Asheville’s development as a liberal arts institution

In 1927, the University of North Carolina at Asheville established its roots as Buncombe County Junior College, with a total of 86 students in attendance. In 1929, the Great Depression forced the necessity of tuition to be charged; produce and other goods were accepted from the students to pay the cost. In the same year, the nearby College of the City of Asheville was closing. The two schools were consolidated to create Biltmore Junior College.

1936 brought another change of name to Asheville-Biltmore College. This same year, control was transferred to the Asheville City Schools. With the desire to have its “own” campus, the college relocated to the former County Home for Children – presently site of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church on Merrimon Avenue in North Asheville.

From 1949 to 1961, Asheville-Biltmore College was located in the Overlook Castle, also known as Seely’s Castle after its original owner, philanthropist Fred Loring Seely. After it outgrew the castle, Asheville-Biltmore College then moved to the current campus in north Asheville. It became a state-supported college in 1963, followed by the presentation of its first bachelor’s degrees in 1966. The following years the school saw the construction of its first residence halls in 1967, followed by more academic buildings.

The college would finally change to its current name, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, in 1969 when it officially became a part of the University of North Carolina System. At this time, the only other two campuses in the system were Chapel Hill and Wilmington. This same year, William Highsmith, who would go on to write a comprehensive history of the college in his 1991 book The University of North Carolina at Asheville: The First Sixty Years, became chancellor. In 1975, Zageir Hall, a social sciences academic building, was completed and named after local  businessman and a longtime supporter of the university Colman Zageir (1894-1975).

UNC Asheville’s current mission statement prioritizes creating an inclusive and diverse community through a liberal arts education. The development of the school overtime, including its movement toward more pertinent locations and involvement in liberal arts, such as joining the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges in 2009.

UNC Asheville has always remained a small school. It reached its 1,000 student enrollment mark in 1970, with its current enrollment at 3,891 in 2016. In the university’s current mission statement, it is stated that, “At UNC Asheville, we respond to the conditions and concerns of the contemporary world both as individuals and as a university.” Maintaining a consistently small population on campus helps one on one interactivity between students and their professors, further aiding focus on studying liberal arts on an individual level.




“Fact Book.” Institutional Research, Effectiveness & Planning. The University of North Carolina at Asheville, n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.

Highsmith, William Edward. The University of North Carolina at Asheville: The First Sixty Years. Asheville, NC: U of North Carolina at Asheville, 1991. Print.

“Timeline.” About. University of North Carolina at Asheville, n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.

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