Remarks from the September 13, 2019 Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Friday, September 13, 2019

Board of Trustees Meeting
Friday, September 13, 2019
Plemmons Student Union, on the campus of Appalachian State University

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Good afternoon.

We are glad to have you here with us on this beautiful Boone day. This time of year in Boone is fabulous, and we have enjoyed beautiful weather, AND the first 2-and-0 start to a Mountaineer football season since 2010!

We do recognize it has not been as fortunate a season for many, however. I know all of us are thinking of our alumni, families of students, friends and colleagues who are still managing the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

Before I begin my report, please help me welcome Dr. Janice Pope, who has assumed the position of interim Dean for the College of Fine & Applied Arts. A member of Appalachian’s faculty since 1996, Janice was in her second term as chair of the Department of Communication when she was appointed to this role. Janice, we are thrilled you are continuing your leadership at Appalachian – thank you for stepping into this role.

I regret to share that Dr. Dane Ward will be stepping down from his position as Dean of Libraries. He has assured us, however, he is not going away. He will continue working and conducting research that helps the university. Dane, I speak for the entire university, everyone in this room and countless others when I say thank you for the incredible contributions you have made – and will continue to make – at Appalachian.

We are about a month into the Fall semester and much has already taken place.

Today, I look forward to sharing how we are supporting our educational mission.

Last Thursday, we celebrated Appalachian’s 120th year at the annual Founders Day celebration, which we hold each year on September 5, the first day of classes at Watauga Academy in 1899. It was a beautiful day that both honored and explored our institution’s history.

The day’s events included:

  • Dedicating a sculpture of Lillie Shull Dougherty, which was a gift from the Dougherty family;
  • A university history exhibition, which featured a research showcase with poster sessions by faculty, staff and students; and…
  • A commemorative ringing of the Founders Bell, which is in its newly constructed pavilion on Founders Plaza.

I hope you will visit the plaza and take time to see the statue of Lillie, and the new home for the Founders Bell — which was painstakingly crafted by our Physical Plant staff, who took tremendous pride in reproducing the roofline and bell steeple of Watauga Academy.

It was a lovely celebration!

Last week, we also presented our annual Health, Wellness and Safety Week programming on campus, which included several pro-active outreach events and activities for students who live on and off campus. The goal of the event is to enhance students’ knowledge of on- and off-campus support services and resources for health and safety efforts. Programming included a festival on Sanford Mall with interactive exhibits and demonstrations, and our annual “House Calls” visits to approximately 2,000 off-campus residences, during which more than 70 volunteers provided students with information promoting healthy behaviors that support student success.

We have a robust team of professionals who engage in education, prevention work, support and assistance — in residence halls, clubs and organizations and through numerous other outreach efforts to students. Our Office of Wellness and Prevention Services coordinates regular and consistent education and prevention programming. Our Appalachian Food Resource Hub was recently expanded by the Office of Sustainability. It provides free food staples and supplies, as well as fresh bread and seasonal, local fruits and vegetables to those on campus who need them, and was recognized in a New York Times article this week.

Additionally, Counseling & Psychological Services, Title Nine Compliance, Appalachian Police Department and Student Conduct offices all provide different types and levels of assistance and support to our university community. These efforts cross ALL divisions on campus, but I would like to take a moment to thank Vice Chancellor JJ Brown and his incredible team in Student Affairs, in particular, for the invaluable work they do to develop and support a healthy and safe learning environment for our students.

Last Tuesday was “census day,” the day the UNC System takes a "snapshot" of all students' enrollment which becomes the official enrollment used for federal and state reporting. Continuing our average 5-year growth rate of 1-2%, our current enrollment stands at 19,280.

We are approaching a landmark enrollment rate of 20,000. Reaching this enrollment number will require university-wide commitment, and last week, I talked with faculty and staff about the importance of reaching this number.

Funding is tight for academic institutions, and the landscape for higher education is uncertain. We have all seen the recent headlines about campuses merging or closing their doors, and surveys and studies tell us this trend is likely to continue.

Reaching our goal of 20,000 students will not only bring in the tuition revenue we need, it will also bolster our position in Chapel Hill AND in Raleigh. We will all work together to reach this important milestone in Appalachian’s history.

I am very pleased to share some important details about our enrollment numbers:

  • Our first-year student enrollment stands at 3,501, which represents a 1.6% increase
  • The total number of transfer students stands at 1,449
  • Total enrollment for underrepresented students is 17.4%. This represents an 8.3% increase from Fall 2018 and an increase of 47% since 2014.
  • Almost 1 in 5 of our new first-year students is racially or ethnically diverse, and underrepresented new, first-year student enrollment has increased by 80% since 2014. (This was the year that I arrived and charged admissions with addressing this growth).

These are impressive numbers, and represent the commitment of our faculty and staff. Let’s take a moment to thank and appreciate them!

Our total enrollment for rural students exceeds 5,800, which is more than 300 students above the UNC System strategic plan benchmark for this year; and 28 percent of our total undergraduate population — or nearly 5,000 students — are first-generation college students.

Recruiting students is important, and yet our success can be even more effectively measured with retention rate metrics.

Our overall retention rate stands at nearly 88%, which is:

  • Up from 87.2% last year;
  • Well above national average; AND
  • Third overall in the UNC System.
  • Retention rates for our African-American students are up from 80% to over 89%
  • Retention rates for our Hispanic students stand at nearly 88%, which is up from 83%; and
  • Retention rates for all underrepresented students stand at just over 87%, which is also up… from 82%.

These numbers are an impressive testament to the work our faculty and staff do every day, and deserve applause!

Our latest data for our 2017-18 alumni show that ninety-eight percent of our undergraduate alumni and ninety-six percent of our graduate alumni are employed and/or enrolled in continuing higher education programs. Our students have demonstrated their ability to succeed, yet for many, the cost of a college education is burdensome — and for others, it is simply out of reach without scholarship assistance.

Last year, Appalachian awarded more than 1,500 scholarships based on financial need, scholarly abilities and academic achievements. Of those recipients:

  • 38% identified as first-generation college students.
  • 38% come from rural counties.
  • 41% are low-income students.

Private funds continue to be critically important to college affordability, and to this end, I would like to ask you to help me welcome Jane Bargothi to Appalachian. Jane has taken the open position of Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Development, and she brings with her more than 13 years of development experience. She is also a 1996 graduate of Appalachian, and holds a passion for our mission.

Contributions to global scholarship are part of Appalachian’s everyday practices.

This year, we hosted the 8th Annual Appalachian Energy Summit, during which experts, policymakers and students from across North Carolina and beyond discussed and strategized sustainability goals that have real and meaningful impact across our state and region. Appalachian’s faculty, staff and students have been the driving force behind this symposium of scholarship and innovation. I am proud that, as a result of Appalachian’s leadership with this summit, campuses of the UNC System — together with industry partners — have avoided more than 924 million dollars in utility costs.

Students at the Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork are making tremendous strides. Test results from the Department of Instruction were released this week, and we are seeing incredible progress. Science, math and reading scores have improved so dramatically in one year that we are six-tenths of a point from having our “low performing” designation removed. Teacher turnover has dropped 5 points from last year and nearly 11 points from the year prior. This impressive success is visible beyond the numbers — it is evident in the enthusiasm of the students, the passion of the teachers and the support from the administrators.

On their first week of the school year, I visited with Academy teachers and staff to wish them well as they begin their second year as the Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork. You can see here we also had a little fun! The energy at this Appalachian campus is invigorating!

Last month, our second class of police cadets celebrated their successful completion of the Appalachian Police Development Program. You will recall that students who complete this two-year program become sworn police officers while simultaneously earning their bachelor’s or master’s degrees. I am pleased to announce that 100% have passed their examination to become certified North Carolina police officers, and, of last year’s class, 100% are employed or pursuing further education.

Appalachian’s Police Department is committed to the security of our campus, and to improving the future of their industry. Last month, the North Carolina Police Executives Association named the department the Law Enforcement Agency of the Year, primarily for its Appalachian Police Officer Development Program — the second of its kind in the nation and the only such program in North Carolina. Our Chief, Andy Stephenson, is not only a dedicated and compassionate police officer, but he is also an exceptional leader for his team.

This summer, we celebrated 35 years of An Appalachian Summer Festival’s contributions to the arts and culture in North Carolina’s High Country. The eclectic mix of music, dance, theatre, visual arts and film attracted more than 28 thousand attendees to Appalachian’s campus for world-class arts and cultural programming.

The festival raised more than 626 thousand dollars in individual gifts, corporate sponsorships, and public and private grants. Fifty-five percent of the festival’s operations budget is covered by contributed income. This helps keep ticket prices here in Boone for performances seen on stages in New York and London very low, and the arts accessible for all.

I am pleased to report our campus construction projects are on time and on budget!

Renovations are underway at Sanford Hall. We are bringing classrooms and office space up to modern standards, and improving the building’s elevators, outdated HVAC, electrical and fire suppression systems. These renovations will be complete in Spring 2021 and will extend the life of the building by as much as 40 years. (Yesterday, a Faculty Senator thanked me for the noise coming from Sanford – because of the progress it represents.)

Last month, we officially opened our newest parking facility. This long-awaited, safety-focused parking deck provides 477 much-needed, well-lit parking spaces. The parking deck is an important campus improvement that benefits our faculty, staff, students, alumni and guests every day. For a few days out of the year it also supports the unbeatable Appalachian football gameday experience — and I’ve heard the tailgating there is fabulous!

Our residence hall project is progressing smoothly and showing visible progress every day. You will recall this project will replace nearly 1,800 beds — and add 400 more.

The Kidd Brewer Stadium end zone project is also underway. The demolition of Owens Field House took place at the end of the Spring semester. Prior to the demolition, our Physical Plant salvaged 300 thousand dollars’ worth of materials for reuse in other campus buildings. All metals were recycled, and most of the masonry was used as fill material on construction sites. These actions accrue points toward our LEED green building certification for the new facility.

Our current construction projects total more than $250 million, and represent the largest infrastructure investment in the entire UNC System. Each of these projects supports and elevates our educational mission. As we improve these spaces on our campus, university staff are working diligently to ensure as seamless an experience as possible for the students who will be living and learning alongside construction, as well as the many Mountaineer football fans. Speaking of which, many fans told us what a great time they had last weekend, and appreciated the new parking options as well as the vastly improved traffic flow with the opening of the new connector that allows traffic to exit near the Schaefer Center.

If you have attended our last two football games, you had the opportunity to try the new Yosef Golden Ale, which is on sale throughout the Boone area, including in our stadium! The partnership with Appalachian Mountain Brewery is made more meaningful because the brewmaster and co-founder of Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Nathan Kelischek, is an Appalachian alumnus, from the class of 2011. We are pleased to partner with him on this project. A portion of the wholesale proceeds benefits our A.R. Smith Department of Chemistry & Fermentation Sciences.

We have and will always prioritize the safety and security of our university community as we continue working through the logistics related to implementing alcohol sales at our athletics venues.

For 120 years, Appalachian has set the tone for higher education. This vision — this drive to address the problems of our region, state and world through creativity and innovation — is the reason we are, beyond a doubt, THE premier, public undergraduate university in North Carolina.

Thank you for your time today, and thank you — each of you — for supporting our university. Together, we will continue to fulfill Appalachian’s mission.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks.