Appalachian State University

In January 2017, the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina unanimously approved Higher Expectations, a five-year Strategic Plan for the UNC System. The Plan calls 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.

Progress on these goals and metrics will be achieved through the hard work and commitment of institutional leaders, faculty, and staff. In that spirit, Appalachian State University has identified these contributions it aspires to make to the UNC Strategic Plan over the next five years.

From Appalachian State University:

2021 is the final year of reporting for the UNC System’s five-year strategic performance benchmarks as set in 2017 — initiatives consistent with App State’s mission to increase access to education for those students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to achieve a college education. Based on data provided by the UNC System office in January 2022, App State has exceeded its prioritized goal of increasing rural enrollments, its improvement goals of increasing low-income enrollments, and its overall undergraduate degree efficiency and research productivity. It has also improved its five-year graduation rate by 5.4%, exceeding its goal by 3%.

App State’s world-class faculty and dedicated staff help make the university a national leader in higher education. The value of work can be measured in students’ achievements in the classroom, laboratories, co-curricular activities, and in graduates’ life and career success. App State enrolls nearly 21,000 students and continues to grow at a slow and steady rate.


From Appalachian State University: One important guiding value of the Strategic Plan is its emphasis on letting each institution’s unique mission within the UNC System drive its strategic metrics. Appalachian has prioritized five of the nine Strategic Plan metrics to evaluate its contributions to the UNC System’s strategic needs:

  • Rural enrollments
  • Low-income completions
  • Rural completions
  • Low-income achievement gaps in undergraduate degree efficiency
  • Critical workforce credentials

Rural Enrollments

By fall 2021, App State will enroll 5,715 rural students, a 7.3% increase over 2016 levels (387 additional rural students over a base of 5,328).

App State surpassed its 2021 goal for increased enrollment of rural students by fall 2018. As of Fall 2021, App State has exceeded the goal by 2.8 percent, with 5,874 students enrolled, despite the challenges of the pandemic. As a leader in outreach and education in rural North Carolina, App State faculty, students, and staff conduct research that builds and sustains relationships with North Carolina’s rural populations, particularly in northwestern North Carolina. Additionally, App State’s community outreach and engagement efforts in rural areas have measurable impact.

To help attain our goal of increased rural enrollments, App State has pursued recruitment efforts with community colleges and through student transition programs such as GEAR UP, the GEAR UP Guarantee program, and Upward Bound. Each academic year, more than 1,200 students at App State participate in service-learning courses. These efforts build strong connections with the university’s surrounding communities. From 2014 to 2022, App State has contributed approximately $3.76 million to the communities in northwestern North Carolina by enrolling students in academic service-learning courses. This commitment to community makes every student an ambassador for App State in nearby communities, strengthening recruitment efforts. Other key recruitment tools that return value to rural communities in North Carolina include the addition of a police academy program in summer 2018, and the Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork in Walkertown, which opened in fall 2018. The success of that academy has led to the Appalachian State University Academy at Elkin, which will open in fall 2022. 

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Low-income Completions

By 2021-22, App State will produce 1,600 low-income graduates, an increase of 24.2% (312 additional low-income completions over a base of 1,288).

From Appalachian State University: By the 2020-21 academic year, App State increased low-income completions by 14.5 percent, and compares favorably to its peer institutions in terms of value and affordability. App State administrators are, however, keenly aware of the cost of a college education and the debt that some students incur while attaining an education at App State. To this end, App State has prioritized increasing the number and availability of need-based and merit-based scholarships for incoming and returning students. Additionally, during the height of the pandemic when students across the UNC System were offered options to withdraw from classes without penalty, App State staff increased outreach and emergency financial assistance to students from low-income backgrounds. App State student support teams continue degree completion outreach to students, focusing on students from low-income households. Fundraising and outreach are key efforts for the university as App State seeks to provide students with the support they need for success in college and beyond.

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Rural Completions

By 2021-22, App State will produce 1,593 rural graduates, an increase of 16.2% (222 additional rural completions over a base of 1,371).*

From Appalachian State University: App State is continuing its efforts to increase the number of graduates from rural areas. Data show strong rural enrollment, improved retention rates for rural students, a narrowing gap between rural student retention and overall student retention, and rural students enrolling in and successfully completing the courses they need to graduate in four to five years. Support programs currently in place at App State — covering pre-admission, transition, and post-enrollment support — help rural students matriculate successfully. These include: the GEAR UP Guarantee, whereby students from regional GEAR UP partner schools who meet certain qualifications are guaranteed admission to App State, Upward Bound, a program designed to provide certain categories of high school students, including those living in rural areas, better opportunities for attending college, and flexible transfer agreements with neighboring community colleges. Other resources include the university’s Early Intervention Team, a faculty- and staff-led entity that works with numerous support organizations and key campus personnel to offer support and assistance, connecting students with resources that can help them address the challenges that arise in classes, residence halls, off-campus housing, or other contexts where students might face obstacles to success. App State also has various wellness initiatives that encourage and support students’ holistic experience including physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and financial health. App State is also taking the lead on advancing research dedicated to providing insight into the role of regional and rural-serving colleges and universities, through a recent collaborative housed in Appalachian State University’s Reich College of Education.

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Achievement Gaps

By 2021-22, App State will reduce by 50% the achievement gap in undergraduate degree efficiency among low-income students.

From Appalachian State University: App State is aggressively pursuing ways to reduce the disparity in academic performance and time-to-degree between low-income and non-low-income students. Since fall 2017, the university has achieved significant improvement in this area. In addition to utilizing its Early Intervention Team model, App State has increased its emphasis on workforce development at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. App State’s Student Support Services program provides opportunities for academic development, assists students with college requirements, and motivates students to successfully complete their degrees. The program works with approximately 200 students each year, who are supported from orientation through graduation. The program’s latest Annual Federal Performance Report showed participants had improved graduation and retention rates. Ninety-seven percent of the students in the program entered the fall 2021 semester in good academic standing. The university’s Career Development Center staff encourages and supports students in exploring career paths, identifying and developing skills, and pursuing experiential opportunities through a slate of programming with employers and alumni, career counseling, and resume reviews. In 2020-21, the center expanded its services with remote service options, greater awareness of diversity and inclusion, and alternative opportunities for the first year after graduation. The center’s most recent post-graduation data show 89 percent of undergraduate and 98 percent of graduate alumni are employed and/or enrolled in continuing higher education programs within one year of graduation. 

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Critical Workforces

By 2021-22, App State will produce 2,257 critical workforce credentials, an increase of 29.6% (516 additional critical workforce credentials over a base of 1,741).*

From Appalachian State University: App State continues to increase the number of critical workforce credentials in fields of health professions, teacher education, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). A recent example of new programming: beginning in fall 2022, App State, through a partnership with Banfield Pet Hospital, will begin offering an online degree program for licensed veterinary technicians (LVTs), which will address the market demand — particularly in rural communities — for skilled veterinary professionals. Through rigorous academic program offerings, internationally recognized research, and extensive public outreach and engagement, App State continues to position itself at the forefront of STEM education and activities in North Carolina. As demand in STEM fields increases, creativity is becoming the commodity of the future. Because of their reputation for creative problem-solving skills, curiosity, and on-the-spot innovation, App State graduates are sought after by employers. Case in point: App State’s Team Sunergy is setting the standard for leadership in the development of solar transportation technology, drawing international recognition to the university’s interdisciplinary approach to STEM education, and helping attract cutting edge companies like Tesla to its campus to recruit employees. Each year, on average, more than 500 individual employers visit App State’s campus to recruit students of all majors. Also, more than 6,800 employers are connected to App State and approved to recruit students through the university’s online tool for job postings.

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From Appalachian State University: One important guiding value of the Strategic Plan is its emphasis on letting each institution’s unique mission within the UNC System drive its strategic metrics. Appalachian designated three of the nine metrics in the “Improve” category as secondary areas for increasing performance during the 2017-22 course of the UNC System Strategic Plan.

Low-income Enrollments

By fall 2021, App State will enroll 4,911 low-income students, a 9.3% increase over 2015 levels (419 additional low-income students over a base of 4,492).

From Appalachian State University: App State is on track to surpass its 2021 goal for increasing enrollment of low-income students. The university was founded on the principle of serving low-income and rural populations, and offers need-based and merit-based scholarships, including the ACCESS Scholarship for students with high financial need. Keenly aware that more scholarships like this one are needed, App State has prioritized increasing the number and availability of need-based and merit-based scholarships for incoming and returning students. These are key fundraising efforts for the university as App State seeks to provide students with the support they need for success in college and beyond. The Aspire Appalachian Co-Admission Program, a partnership between App State and nine Community Colleges in North Carolina, provides a seamless pathway for students enrolled at partner community colleges to complete their degrees at App State. Students who meet eligibility requirements are guaranteed admission to App State to finish their undergraduate degrees. Participating students receive dedicated advising assistance from both their community colleges and App State, as well as tailored programming and special events. With App State’s November 2021 announcement of the App State Hickory Campus, the Aspire program gained more awareness with prospective students in Catawba, Caldwell, Burke and Alexander Counties.

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Undergraduate Degree Efficiency

By 2021-22, App State will improve its undergraduate degree efficiency to 24.2 over a base of 23.3.

From Appalachian State University: App State has surpassed its final target in undergraduate degree efficiency — a measure of degrees awarded per enrollments. App State’s “DegreeWorks” initiative sets a goal for all undergraduates to complete their degrees in four years. The initiative combines a web-based degree audit with face-to-face academic advising to provide constant organizational support for degree completion. Students can run scenarios using their current or potential degree programs to chart progress toward graduation and run “what if” scenarios to see how changing their current academic program (adding/deleting/changing majors, minors, etc.) would affect degree completion progress. Additional tools include real-time information, educational planning components, transparent course and credit transfer information, and GPA calculators to assist students in completing their degrees with the greatest possible efficiency. More efficiency yields faster time-to-degree, lower tuition payments, lower debt, and earlier entry into the job market — all of which bolster the value of an App State education. Challenges presented by COVID led to easing some requirements that have supported time to completion. Students were able to drop courses without penalty in 2020 and 2021. In anticipation of the impact of COVID on undergraduate degree efficiency, App State staff engaged in call campaigns to undergraduate students in 2020. In 2021, specialized outreach and financial assistance were focused to support students facing challenges with degree completion.

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Research Productivity

By 2021-22, App State will receive $18,279,664 in research and development sponsored program awards and licensing income, an increase of 15.8% ($2,500,000 additional over a base of $15,779,664).*

From Appalachian State University: By fall 2021, App State’s total award dollars exceeded $35.5 million. The university has prioritized innovative research and creative endeavors, which has benefited the community and positioned the university as a leader among its peers. App State’s faculty and staff are called upon for their expertise in areas as diverse as human performancerural health careinternational leadership training, student health and safety, and sustainability. In addition, App State was a top producer in the nation of Fulbright Scholar awards in 2019. App State’s students and alumni take their skills to the workforce and apply them to make real and powerful differences in their communities and beyond. Properties designated by the Board of Governors as having Millennial Campus status present opportunities to think and act creatively, quickly, and nimbly. They further App State’s research capacity and its teaching and service mission, while also enhancing regional economic development. App State’s Millennial Campus projects involve repurposing decommissioned property and re-envisioning inactive building sites, allowing the university to think strategically about how to operate as a campus while also meeting regional needs in the long term. One example: in March 2022, App State broke ground on the first building of its Innovation District— the Conservatory for Biodiversity Education and Research. This endeavor which will serve as a vital link between the campus and the regional community through education, research, and outreach. Other facilities under consideration include additional spaces for research, teaching and demonstration, workspaces for multidisciplinary projects, and renewable energy laboratories.

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From Appalachian State University: One important guiding value of the Strategic Plan is its emphasis on letting each institution’s unique mission within the UNC System drive its strategic metrics. App State designated one of the nine metrics in the “Sustain” category a metric for continual monitoring. While this metric may not require additional resources for improvement during the 2017-22 course of the Strategic Plan, App State seeks continual improvement in all areas and will work to improve in this category as well.

Five-year Graduation Rates

By 2022, App State will improve its five-year graduation rate from any accredited institution to 77.0%. This is an improvement over a base of 74.6% for App State’s 2010 cohort.

From Appalachian State University: App State surpassed its goal to sustain its five-year graduation rate, which reached 80 percent in the last year. The university employed numerous strategies to streamline the learning paths for its students. These include advising tools to help students “Finish in Four,” an early intervention team and financial literacy in the co-curricular experience. In addition to the statewide articulation agreements between North Carolina community colleges and state universities, App State also has individual articulation agreements with 10 community colleges and a co-admission program with nearby Caldwell Community College. App State’s faculty, staff, and students share a commitment to student success.

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