Remarks from the September 12, 2022 Faculty Senate Meeting

Monday, September 12, 2022

Remarks by Sheri Everts, Chancellor

Good afternoon.

It is my pleasure to address this group today. The beginning of the academic year is always an exciting time full of promise, and I know we are all looking forward to the year ahead.

Last night, I returned from College Station, Texas, after our football team won a tremendously important game for App State, beating Texas A&M, which was ranked sixth in the nation. This week, College GameDay, ESPN’s popular college football pregame show, will broadcast from App State’s campus for the first time ever. The national publicity for our university earned by these student-athletes and their coaches is unparalleled in our university’s history, and it brings with it prestige and recognition for the entire App State campus. Given the logistics related to ESPN coming to campus, we will need to re-schedule Friday’s Faculty Club reception. My apologies for this – it can’t be helped, but I am looking forward to the reception this afternoon.

Many of the faculty I have spoken with this academic year have commented on the energy and excitement on campus. This year has a new feel to it, after five semesters of COVID precautions that inhibited our interactions and adversely affected the mental health of so many members of our university community.

As I shared in my State of the University remarks last month, COVID safety remains a top priority. This time last year, our focus, guided by public health recommendations, was on mitigation using preemptive testing, monitoring case counts to identify outbreaks, and contact tracing. With new guidelines and procedures in place, our vigilant and proactive focus is now on reducing the severe effects. Our university COVID website is linked from the App State homepage, and it is regularly updated.

Vaccines and boosters are critical to keeping our campus as healthy as possible, and I am so pleased that we have the latest COVID vaccine available on campus. COVID Vaccines are available at Student Health Service by appointment, and students and employees who get a COVID vaccine or a booster on campus will receive a $50 Amazon gift card.

National publications are beginning to announce their college rankings for 2022-2023. These rankings are typically released each year beginning in September.  College rankings by U.S. News & World Report, The Princeton Review, Forbes magazine and have recognized App State for its academics, innovation, benefits for student veterans, programs to enhance the first-year experience and other aspects affirming App State’s position as an educational leader — for both the nation and the Southeast.

  • The U.S. News and World Report “Best Colleges” rankings list App State at NUMBER ONE in Most Innovative Schools; Number two for Best Undergraduate Teaching AND Best Colleges for Veterans, and Number three in Top Public Schools in the South, all for the third consecutive year. This year, we were also ranked sixth for Best Regional Universities in the South.
  • App State also earned “Best College” designations by The Princeton Review, and we are featured in their 2022 “Guide to Green Colleges” for having exemplary commitments to the environment and sustainability.
  • Forbes magazine ranked us among “America’s Top Colleges” for 2022 — placing App State in the top ten in North Carolina public and private schools.
  • placed App State in its “Best Colleges in America” rankings for 2022, and also ranked App State third among North Carolina public schools and sixth in their 2022 “Best Colleges in the South” rankings.

These rankings highlight the valuable work you to fulfill our mission of teaching excellence at App State, and while they only tell a small part of the story, I am glad to see your work recognized by these major publications.

In June, the Board of Trustees approved our new strategic plan, which was developed through a comprehensive, transparent and collective effort led by our University Planning and Priorities Council. For each of the plan’s strategic priorities, we are building and utilizing metrics, benchmarks and procedures to assess impact. We will communicate the overall impact with annual updates. Our assessment tools will include:

  • A university-wide financial plan;
  • A climate action plan;
  • A strategic plan for the research and creative endeavors enterprise;
  • A diversity, equity and inclusion plan; and
  • A comprehensive fundraising campaign.

I look forward to advancing App State under this new, thoughtful mission — one recognizing the university as a long-established public institution that honors our founding commitment to educational access and excellence and our rural mountain heritage through teaching, research and service.

Our strategic performance metrics are, of course, tied to those of the UNC System.

In January 2017, the Board of Governors unanimously approved a five-year Strategic Plan for the UNC System. The Plan called on the UNC System to achieve ambitious goals in access, student success, affordability and efficiency, economic impact and community engagement, and institutional excellence and diversity.

These are the metrics we committed to in 2017 (there are two slides, so I will go through both of them with you).

As you can see, we have exceeded our rural enrollment goal. Prior to COVID, we were on track to meet or exceed the other goals on this slide. Unfortunately, when students were given the option, during COVID, to drop courses without penalty, we lost significant ground in these areas.

In our areas identified to improve and/or sustain, we exceeded our goals significantly.

The System Strategic Plan was “refreshed” in the 2021-22 academic year, and we can expect to see a strong emphasis on degree efficiency, and some additional metrics related to addressing mental health, better serving adult students (including veterans and military-affiliated North Carolinians), and reducing student debt.

You will see a theme — in both the new funding model and the UNC System strategic plan metrics — that the Board of Governors and UNC System are focused on measuring and rewarding student success, and reducing cost of attendance to the greatest extent possible.

Let me show you a bit of quick context. I’ll begin with the current funding model. Some of you have seen these charts before. This chart reflects our current funding allocation per student. As you can see, we are very near the bottom of the funding model, in the penultimate position, at less than $8,000 per student.

This chart reflects our current funding allocation per residential student. We are at the very bottom of this funding model chart, with just over $8500 per student.

A new performance-based funding model is being developed. This performance-based model allows campuses to generate revenue by improving performance and takes tuition out of the equation, incentivizing campuses to keep costs low for students and their families. This model calculates the amount of money allocated by the state based on how well institutions meet state, system and campus policy goals and metrics instead of enrollment growth.

State money will be allocated per credit hour for in-state students and schools will receive funding for summer courses for in-state students; while tuition will cover the costs of out-of-state students.

Money has already been allocated from the state in the most recent budget.
For Fiscal Year 2023, institutions will be funded based on whichever model delivers a higher dollar amount. All campuses will be funded based on the new model starting in Fiscal Year 2024.

The new model is a beginning point.

It is abundantly clear that the funding model – and as a result, future faculty salary increases – will be tied to these, and any newly established performance metrics.

Conversations about potential new performance metrics are still in progress, and will continue between campuses and the Board of Governors in the coming weeks.

Upon arriving at App State in 2014, I immediately recognized major employee compensation issues (and a history of App being under-resourced in general). From my first day on the job, I have made it a priority to advocate for a new salary structure and funding model from the UNC System, and find every pocket of recurring funds to address employee compensation.

We have enthusiastically embraced every opportunity to address the significant challenges associated with faculty compensation. In total, over the last nine months, all eligible faculty will have received an increase of at least 6% (across the board), and as much as 11% (with highest merit). Some have realized more, with equity and inversion adjustments applied.

There is System authorization this year for a 5% one-time merit bonus on top of the 3.5% awarded this year, but the money must come from existing campus resources. We took advantage of the opportunity last fiscal year to give 5% recurring merit increases, which has a much more lasting impact, and that drained our existing resources.

Additionally, the UNC System has discouraged Labor Market Adjustment Reserve compensation increases for faculty in the 2022-23 year.

The good news is, we’ve moved into this salary range! We certainly have some catching up to do, but this is an important step.

Keep in mind, the money has to come from somewhere. Performance metrics and the funding model are a good start, and we are very encouraged.

We have made significant progress, especially post-COVID. Much of this is because of the trust placed in us for the way we managed through the pandemic.

With the signing of the budget by Gov. Cooper, App State saw the best biennial budget in university history. Employee compensation included a 6% across-the-board salary increase, as well as authority to give additional recurring merit and equity increases and one-time bonuses to eligible employees. Last year, we took full advantage of every opportunity to increase compensation. We need to continue to leverage every opportunity that legislative and UNC System authority and available funding allow, to increase compensation for every employee.

Our elected officials, Board of Governors members and donors are eager to support App State because of the incredible achievements of our faculty, staff and students.

After breaking ground in March on the first academic building of the Innovation District, we continue to move forward.

The Innovation District will bring together expertise across disciplines and facilitate collaborations on campus and with the communities throughout the region, extending the university’s mission of teaching, research and service. This project is an ambitious enterprise that will have a lasting and powerful impact on the entire region.

Phase One of the project will include:

A Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research. This facility will include cross-disciplinary collaboration and encourage K–12 partnerships.

Paired with the adjacent Nature Preserve, the conservatory will advance knowledge surrounding the natural and cultural history of the Southern Appalachian region, allowing the App State Community and visitors to:

  • understand the natural history and economic importance of our region’s biodiversity; and
  • gain a heightened appreciation of the research and creative endeavors being conducted at App State.

The conservatory will build on existing opportunities available through the Department of Biology’s teaching and research facilities. Construction for the conservatory is slated to begin in summer 2023, with a targeted opening date of fall 2025.

Phase One will also include employee housing, funded through a public-private-partnership, that will not rely on state funds, or any capital from the university. Our resort community location adds financial pressure in an already tight housing market. During my first days on campus, employees let me know they were often “priced out” of housing in Boone, and many live in other counties, and even Tennessee, in order to afford homes for themselves and their families. I have long had pressing concerns about how availability of affordable housing impacts the recruitment of a talented workforce. Now, with Millennial Campus designation and support from our Trustees and our Board of Governors, I am pleased we will have more affordable options to help meet our employees’ demand for housing. Construction for the faculty and staff housing is slated to begin in winter of 2023 and conclude in 2025.

The third aspect of the Phase One District Concept is a zero-carbon energy system that will begin to transition our campus away from steam power. App State has a long-established reputation as a leader in the renewable energy space. Because of this, there are organizations that are interested in working with us on this innovative project, and we are exploring renewable energy options that will establish a national example for sustainable energy solutions. This project will also be a public-private-partnership, requiring no state funds or university capital. The design for the energy system is expected to be finalized in fall 2022, with the system becoming operational in summer 2025.

We are moving forward with plans for opening the Hickory Campus to students in fall 2023.

The City of Hickory has been incredibly welcoming to App State. Signage has been going up on the building in recent weeks, and the City of Hickory cleaned the exterior of the building for us a few months ago making the building much brighter than in the fall when we bought it!

Partnerships with the City of Hickory and other local government, education, civic and business leaders in the area will be key to meeting the educational needs of the region. We have held several listening sessions with many constituency groups representing Hickory and the surrounding areas, with more planned. These have included members of the General Assembly, representatives from local government entities, higher education, K–12 schools, business, civic and community development leaders. In July, I convened the first meeting of the App State at Hickory Advisory Council, which has representation from key leaders in the Hickory area.

Many of the discussions and listening sessions we have had so far have involved advancing educational attainment for the Hickory area. Common themes that have emerged include innovation, arts and culture, recreation, child care, student support and academic areas that include business, education, health care, engineering, design and building sciences. There are also numerous possibilities for the Hickory area to engage with the university’s sustainability initiatives.

As we prepare to open the App State at Hickory Campus to students in fall of 2023, we are taking the information from these listening sessions and meetings and aligning them with the academic goals, missions and opportunities in each academic college. Our program offerings will be strategic, thoughtful and collaborative.

Last spring, we congratulated our fourth class of graduating mini-Mountaineers from App State’s first lab school, the Appalachian State Academy at Middle Fork, in Walkertown. The graduating fifth graders worked very hard, supported by their families and the dedicated Academy teachers and staff, and they have bright futures ahead of them. Every one of them is planning to come here — their college in the mountains.

Last month, we cut the ribbon on our second lab school, the new App State Academy at Elkin. The teachers, principal and staff, supported by the Superintendent and the School Board, were so excited to start school they were nearly jumping up and down! We are now the only UNC System institution to operate two lab schools. The Elkin Academy serves approximately 100 students in second through fourth grades. We greatly appreciate the strong and steady leadership from Dean Spooner and the amazing collaborative team in the Reich College of Education for their work with these academies, which are becoming models for student success across the state.

We are, of course, thrilled with the last biennial budget, and we continue to showcase our needs to State legislators and UNC Board of Governors members. In 2020, a UNC System STEM Capital Planning Study projected that App State will need approximately 132,000 square feet of space dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math in order to meet projected demands by 2030. In this study, we looked at replacing I.G. Greer with a multistory STEM building in the heart of our campus. Unlike Sanford and Wey halls, I.G. Greer is not a building we would be able to cost-effectively renovate. A new STEM building would expand the classroom capacity of the entire campus, adding lecture classrooms and expanding teaching and research laboratory space. Additional research space would allow faculty mentorship in undergraduate and graduate research. This is a priority funding project for the future that I mention to the Board of Governors and members of the General Assembly regularly.

At the same time, we are raising money for scholarships, endowed professorships and academic programming. Many of these gifts support, recruit and retain our best and most talented faculty.

This year marks the best fundraising year the university has had in a decade, crossing the $36 million mark, with nearly $31 million in cash gifts. The Appalachian Fund, College of Fine and Applied Arts, Reich College of Education, University Libraries and An Appalachian Summer Festival had record fundraising years. Last spring, for example, we received a $2 million endowed professorship in early child literacy.

Since my arrival at App State, my goal has been to grow endowment gifts in support of major strategic initiatives and professorships. In the last eight years, we have had a 36% increase in professorships, and our endowment portfolio has more than doubled, to $150 million.

We are working to share the big picture and all of our planning and work for YOU, the faculty, and the future of App State. This summer, I hosted your academic Department Chairs and participated in a three-week summer institute, which offers opportunities for academic department chairs to engage with one another, as well as with members of my leadership team, for in-depth discussions about topics ranging from funding for the university, to enrollment goals, to diversity and inclusion strategies, and much more. The discussions were rich and collaborative, and I thank Provost Norris and her leadership team, in particular Vice Provost of Faculty Policies and Development Neva Specht and Dr. Susan Colby, Interim Executive Director for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning for Student Success, for presenting this important professional development opportunity for the academic Department Chairs.

These individuals demonstrated passionate and unwavering commitment to the success of our students and steadfast support of App State faculty. We are so fortunate to have such an outstanding group of chairs leading our academic departments.

The university is strong, and App State is on a trajectory of excellence that will continue for generations to come. We continue to innovate in response to the needs of our state and region, and we remain true to our founding mission: to provide access to education.

Thank you all, for your dedication to App State.

The exciting accomplishments, events and plans for the future that I have shared with you today have been supported, sustained and encouraged by you. I want to thank you on behalf of the entire university for your teaching, research and service, which further elevates App State students, faculty and staff every day.

I know you have a full agenda ahead. At the conclusion of your meeting today, I look forward to hosting a reception in your honor, which begins at 5:30, and will take any questions then.

Thank you.