Remarks from the Spring 2017 Faculty and Staff Meeting

Friday, January 27, 2017

Spring 2017 Faculty and Staff Meeting
Friday, January 27, 2017
201 Blue Ridge Ballroom, Plemmons Student Union, on the campus of Appalachian State University

Remarks by Sheri N. Everts, Chancellor

Good afternoon, and welcome to the Spring 2017 semester.

I am confident about what this new semester and new year hold for Appalachian, in large part because of your contributions.

We have spent the past three years working hard as a community to advance many important initiatives. Initiatives, I am pleased to report, that are reflected in those of the UNC strategic plan.

Your work – our work – which is rooted in a deep and lasting commitment to sustainability, supports every initiative in the system’s strategic plan.

The system’s five initiatives are:

  • Access
  • Affordability and Efficiency
  • Student Success
  • Economic Impact and Community Engagement, and
  • Excellent and Diverse Institutions.

Sometimes we use different terminology as we develop our pedagogy, prepare and plan, but the bottom line is this: these are the same goals we strive toward every day at Appalachian. And each has a direct tie-in to our strategic plan.

We set these goals to prepare leaders. Because ultimately, that’s what we do. We prepare leaders – creative problem solvers who approach challenges with the ability to think in an interdisciplinary manner, and it reaps rewards.

A recent study showed that after graduation, nearly 85 percent of our 2014-15 undergraduate alumni – and just under 100 percent of our graduate alumni – are either employed or enrolled in an institution of post-secondary education.

Feedback from employers indicates they appreciate our graduates’ abilities to think critically, build relationships and communicate effectively. As academics, we know these are skills that also serve them well in educational settings.

This is sustainable.

Let’s look at the language of the system’s strategic plan to explore this.


Appalachian has long valued an open and accessible pathway to education.

Indeed, we were founded in order to provide access to education for the residents in this rural, western region of the state. We understand the importance of providing access to education for all citizens.

We understand this is sustainable.

Last year, Appalachian saw a 33 percent increase in merit-based financial aid for students.

Fundraising for scholarships will continue to grow, because our emphasis on fundraising for need-based and merit-based scholarships is key to continuing this fundamental tradition of our institution.


Keeping college affordable has always been a priority at Appalachian. Our tuition rates are very competitive and our graduates’ college loan debt is comparatively low. Yet affording an Appalachian education is a hardship for some, and out of reach for others.

So, while we know enrollment growth and support are important, we are keenly aware that retention is key.

Our graduation and retention rates are well above the average of our Carnegie class. The deliberate, thoughtful, and data-driven work we do to ensure our students’ success also helps keep the cost of their college education low.

It is also directly tied to sustainability.

A recent campus STARS report shows a significant correlation between campuses that integrate sustainability into their curriculum and increased graduation and retention rates.

I will continue to hold as a key priority support for initiatives that help our students graduate without overwhelming student debt.

Student Success

Our approach to student success takes an affordable college experience and makes it a valuable one. We combine an excellent education with initiatives that provide support beyond the classroom, including an emphasis on preventative measures, like safety and wellness education.

Our students and their families appreciate our practice of purposeful care and concern for safety, health and wellness, as well as the many ways we offer guidance throughout our students’ paths to graduation.

From our book rental program (which, incidentally, is nearly 8 decades old), our ‘Finish in Four’ initiative and our graduate school’s accelerated admission program, to our early intervention team, to including financial literacy in the co-curricular experience, we are committed to student success.

The vice-chancellors and I will continue to find resources for important initiatives like these, and many others, to ensure our students are successful in – and beyond – the classroom.

Because that is sustainable.


Appalachian has a system-wide reputation for efficiency. In many ways, this is rooted in our history and the culture of our region. Figuring out how to operate on a lean budget has made us creative and nimble, and has fostered a culture of pride in self-sufficiency. Nevertheless, we are deserving of additional resources. We have demonstrated time and again our ingenuity in utilizing them.

Since 2007, Appalachian has accumulated over $29 million in avoided energy and water costs. It is no coincidence our campus was the genesis of the Appalachian Energy Summit, which has provided a platform through which UNC campuses, together with industry partners, have avoided more than $499 million in utility costs.

Last week, I shared with campus that I have been developing, along with Chancellor Dubois at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and Chancellor Woodson at North Carolina State University, system-wide strategies around affordability and efficiency.

I also committed to the Appalachian community that my approach to efficiency will be to do MORE WITH MORE, rather than more with less. My commitment to being efficient with our resources is solid. I intend to build on a longstanding legacy that is deeply rooted in the culture of the Appalachian Mountains, to be creative with them. I will tirelessly advocate for resources, knowing we will always make the most of them.

I want you to know that I am ever-mindful of the long hours and deep commitment you give to Appalachian. This dedication is one of the many reasons our students and alumni hold such a strong work ethic. It is also one reason we have included work-life balance in our strategic plan.

While there are many wonderful traditions at Appalachian, one I will not continue is the expectation that one person will do the work of two – or more – under the guise of efficiency. I will give priority to providing faculty and staff with the appropriate level of support. Adequate staffing and professional development will be key to this. Fundraising efforts will focus on professorships and academic facilities, in addition to scholarships. Enrollment increases will be paced so that we will be able to support our slow and steady growth.

That is efficient. That is sustainable.

Economic Impact and Community Engagement

Our students have a deep commitment for serving the community through volunteer work and service-learning. Their work has been recognized by the President's Higher Education Honor Roll and the Carnegie Foundation for the Engagement of Teaching.

Since 2004, Appalachian has contributed more than $22.3 million in value to the High Country community through our Appalachian and the Community Together (or ACT) program alone.

On Saturday, 200 students contributed over 1,200 combined hours of service during the 18th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, working in 23 different not-for-profit organizations across the High Country. Local schools, organizations that help provide food, clothing and shelter to those in need, organizations that assist at-risk youth and children with physical and intellectual disabilities and area arts organizations benefitted from the work of our students who chose to serve, rather than sleep in. But make no mistake, in serving others, our students were served as well, taking classroom lessons into the field and learning about themselves and their community while doing so.

For decades, our faculty and staff have found ways to support our community. It seems that even after three years on this campus, every day I learn of a new initiative or organization our faculty and staff have built and sustained, sometimes with little more than grit and determination. These initiatives must become more institutionalized. They are so critical to how we serve our community and our students.

And they are the foundation of sustainability.

Excellent and Diverse Institutions

Visit the university’s website any day and examples of research, innovation and creative endeavors abound. Here are just three stories you can find on today:

Read the full stories and you’ll discover extraordinary efforts around advancing technology, global learning, educator preparation and instruction.

Be assured, I will continue to prioritize and promote initiatives that support academic excellence.

Soon we will begin reviewing submissions to the new Appalachian Innovation Scholars Program, which will provide support for faculty and staff engaged in innovation within their disciplines. I am resolute about getting this program established, as it is another way to provide more resources for Appalachian’s stellar faculty and staff.

I have also placed fundraising for professorships at the top of the priority list, because while many factors contribute to a university’s excellence, the most meaningful of these is the talent of our faculty, who enrich the academic environment, and attract talented students.

While engaging our students both in and outside of the classroom, we are fostering the intellectual, personal and professional development of our students both ‘at home’ and abroad.

Appalachian is a national leader in education abroad for long-term and short-term study-abroad programs, including international teaching, internships, service learning, and research. Global learning has become so integral to our teaching and learning environment that it will last long beyond the life of our current QEP.

Initiatives supporting diversity and inclusiveness remain a top priority and are multi-pronged. Chief among these are to increase the number of historically under-represented students through recruitment and retention strategies. Progress in these areas is steady and includes an increase in under-represented populations of our first-year class.

Retention rates for our under-represented students overall have remained strong, ranging from 83-89 percent in the past five years. In some years, retention rates of our African American students have been the highest among all of their first year cohort classmates. For the Fall 2015 first year cohort, retention was 95 percent.

One has only to glance at our strategic plan to understand our dedication to excellence is based in our commitment to diversity of thought, belief and community. It’s beautiful language, and it’s challenging and sometimes quite messy work, and you embrace it every day.

This work, at its core, is the essence of sustainability.

We have been doing it right at Appalachian!

Clearly, our commitment to sustainability is good for the health of the institution. Not only is it integrated into every aspect of the path forward for the UNC system, but also, in a time when institutions of higher education are facing enrollment challenges across the nation, it places Appalachian in high demand.

The transformational experience our students seek is a sustainable one. Fifty-three percent of last year’s incoming class told us Appalachian’s commitment to sustainability was a deciding factor in their choice to attend Appalachian. When we say sustainability is in our DNA, it’s genuine. It’s a reality that sets our institution apart, and provides teaching and research opportunities for our faculty, staff and students. This commitment creates value for the institution, and it makes the degrees of our students and alumni more valuable as well.

So THANK YOU, for your commitment to sustainability, and your commitment to Appalachian. I look forward to continuing along this course with you, and advocating for your work along the way.