Appalachian State is setting its sights on a fall 2020 enrollment of 20,000 students, with Chancellor Sheri Everts and other administrators noting earlier this month that continued growth is vital to the institution’s financial sustainability and its standing across the state.

Administrators spoke to the Appalachian State Board of Trustees at its Sept. 13 quarterly meeting about the university’s growth and retention metrics and strategies amid a climate of uncertainty for higher education.

“We are approaching a landmark enrollment rate of 20,000,” Everts said in her remarks to trustees. “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.

“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.”

This fall, Appalachian reached a total enrollment of 19,280, a 0.9 percent increase over fall 2018’s enrollment of 19,108, according to figures from the University of North Carolina system. Cindy Barr, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management at Appalachian, noted in the trustees’ Academic Affairs Committee meeting that this semester, the university’s main campus enrollment topped 18,000 for the first time (Appalachian’s total enrollment number includes students enrolled online and in other off-campus programs).

Hitting 20,000 in fall 2020 would mean an increase of 720 students, or 3.7 percent, over this year’s enrollment, Appalachian State spokesperson Megan Hayes said.

Systemwide, total fall 2019 enrollment at UNC’s 16 public university campuses increased by 1.3 percent over last year, for a total of 239,987 students, according to a Sept. 18 announcement from the system. Undergraduate enrollment grew by 0.9 percent, with graduate students increasing at a greater rate, at 2.6 percent.

Ten campuses grew their enrollments by rates ranging from 0.4 percent (UNC-Greensboro) to 7.9 percent (UNC-Pembroke), while the six campuses with shrinking enrollments declined by rates of -0.2 percent (East Carolina) to -4.3 percent (UNC-Asheville).

“At a time when attendance at other universities is declining, our enrollment continues to break records,” UNC System Interim President Bill Roper said in a statement. “We are delivering unparalleled education that is more affordable and more accessible to more people.”

But the number of incoming first-year students and transfers fell slightly across the UNC system, which coincides with a slowdown in the growth of high school graduating classes and a stronger job market, the system said.

Appalachian’s first-year class grew to 3,501 (up from 3,445 in fall 2018), but, Barr said, “We were hoping to be closer to 3,650 this fall.”

“Appalachian is one of the few in the system to have growth,” Barr said. “There is a market disruption in North Carolina.”

The number of new transfer students fell from 1,568 students in fall 2018 to 1,449, according to data from Appalachian’s office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning. Barr attributed the decline in part to market competition with the UNC system’s three “NC Promise” universities, which guarantee tuition costs of $500 per semester. The three NC Promise campuses — UNC Pembroke, Elizabeth City State and Western Carolina — grew total enrollments by rates of 7.9 percent, 5.7 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively, according to UNC system data.

Of 16,579 applications received by Appalachian for the 2019-20 term, the university accepted 12,779, according to Alexis Pope, director of admissions.

Nationwide, higher education leaders have been calling attention to a decline in birth rates and what that trend could portend for higher ed institutions.

Nathan Grawe, an economist at Carleton College in Minnesota, predicted last year that the college-going population would drop by 15 percent between 2025 and 2029 and continue to decline by another percentage point or two thereafter, according to a September 2018 article by The Hechinger Report, a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on education.

“When the financial crisis hit in 2008, young people viewed that economic uncertainty as a cause for reducing fertility,” Grawe told the publication. “The number of kids born from 2008 to 2011 fell precipitously. Fast forward 18 years to 2026 and we see that there are fewer kids reaching college-going age.”

Figures and projections from the National Center for Education Statistics and other groups indicate that high school graduate numbers have already begun to stagnate in recent years.

Putting additional pressures on UNC university budgets are state appropriations that haven’t kept up with inflation, according to a study by the left-leaning think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which found that after adjusting for inflation, total per-student spending on higher education in North Carolina fell by 20 percent between 2008 and 2018.

And in recent years, the state legislature and UNC system Board of Governors have enacted policies limiting campuses’ ability to increase their tuition rates. Tuition costs at Appalachian have remained at $4,242 per year for the past three years.

“We have to grow now,” said Lee Barnes, trustee. “To meet our budget, we have to have paying customers, and that’s what enrollment does.”

Barr said that Appalachian State’s enrollment and admissions staff are implementing several strategies to meet the university’s enrollment goals.

“If birth rates are dropping, how do we get a bigger share of graduates to come to Appalachian?” Barr said.

Appalachian is adding a new admissions counselor and expanding opportunities for campus visits, including Saturday tours. Applicants will be allowed to self-report their SAT scores — to be verified by the university later — which will lead to more completed applications, Barr said. If the policy had been in place this year, an estimated 600 more applications could have been submitted by the early action deadline, she said, including more racially under-represented and low-income students.

Barr said the university was also looking at providing scholarship offers and financial aid packages to families earlier in the admissions process.

Trustee Charles Murray asked how the university would accomplish its enrollment growth goals without compromising on its admissions standards. Barr replied that while the university continues to consider traditional metrics such as GPA and SAT scores, it has adopted a holistic review process for applicants that takes other measures into account, such as student activities, interests, extenuating circumstances and resiliency.

“Our mission is to serve the citizens of North Carolina,” Barr said. “If we see a small shift in our academic profile, it does not mean those students won’t be successful here.”

Michael Behrent, chair of the Faculty Senate, expressed concerns from faculty members about the potential implications for university employees if the campus isn’t able to reach its goals.

“Looking forward, there is that concern about the impact that this kind of growth could have on student quality,” Behrent said. “Also, among faculty, there is anxiety about the university’s need, because of financial reasons ... to grow in this very competitive environment to get students that we seem to be entering.”

Provost Darrell Kruger noted that with steady increases in enrollment, Appalachian has continued to invest in full-time faculty positions and has maintained a 16:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

According to The Hechinger Report, “Grawe argues that colleges might be able to avoid closures and budget shortfalls if they can reduce their dropout rates and focus on keeping students — and their tuition dollars — on campus.”

“Expect more colleges to launch ‘student retention’ and ‘student success’ initiatives,” the article stated.

The UNC system pointed to improved retention rates in this week’s announcement: “A major factor contributing to record enrollment is improved student retention across the system,” it said. “The data suggest stronger retention of students at UNC system institutions and other improvements that help students graduate in a timely fashion.”

Appalachian’s retention rate (the percentage of first-year students who remain enrolled a year later) is 88 percent, Everts said, which is up from 87.2 percent last year, well above the national average and third overall in the UNC system.

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(29) comments

Just rough math - they accepted 12,779 of 16,579 (77%) and only enrolled 3,501 (27%). They grew freshmen by 50 and the who institution by 170. What is growing? Online? If they already accept 88% of transfer then there is not a lot more to accept there. Will they increase freshmen by 5 or 600? If so, that is 2,200 more accepts or a 90% acceptance rate. That seems high. And a lot more cars in Boone.

That is a lot more if they are wanting more freshmen. But the 90% will only happen if they don't get more freshmen to apply. The common data set shows that they are getting more applications each year. If they get 500 more applications, they acceptance rate will only be 88%. That is still more selective than some of the privates in NC -



Still--nothing but your feelings. These feelings are not reflected in the available data.

Regarding differences in GPA. Entering freshman GPA is their high school average. Transfer GPA is college average. To compare the two is not valid. Standards used in high school grades is not comparable to standards used in college grades. Even the scales used are different. HS GPA is a 5-point scale, college GPA is a 4-point scale.

Regarding "the acceptance rate has skyrocketed." What is the acceptance rate of transfer students? I cannot find that particular statistic.

Regarding "recent agreement". If you are referring to the articulation agreement between NC community colleges and the UNC system, it was put in place 23 years ago.

"It is clear that the quality of students has gone down." Let's compare transfer GPAs in 2010 and 2019. Transfer GPA of students transferring to AppState in the fall of 2010 was 2.53. Those transferring in the fall of 2019 came with a GPA of 3.1 . Student quality, at least as it is reflected by the student's GPA at their previous college, is more than a half-point higher last fall than a decade ago.

This trend is seen in freshman classes as well. Average SAT scores of Fall 2010 new students was 1136. SATs for the Fall 2019 class was 1189, a significantly higher score. Once again, when student quality is judged by average SAT scores, the quality of new AppState students has increased.

This is what the official data says about AppState students.

I believe you are the one that is being defensive. Your numbers gloss over the relevant facts, which is what the university hopes you and others will do. Transfers have traditionally been weaker than freshman (as you note). The percent of incoming students that are transfers has skyrocketed, which simple math tells us that means lower quality. The dramatic increase in the acceptance rate is a fact, which simple math tells us that standards have declined. Appalachian is no longer selective. No, I was not referring to the articulation agreement. I was talking about the new agreement that lowered standards relative to that articulation agreement. It was adopted in 2018 and guarantees admission to any CCC&TI graduate with a 2.25. That lowering of the bar is a fact. This past year the university undershot its target, and instead of holding the line on quality, they went deeper in the pool to accept students that were previously not accepted because they value $ over quality. Those are facts. My feeling is that the strategy of growing the university is bad for the university and bad for the town because it lowers the quality of both.


@scottdavidson responds, "[y]our numbers gloss over the relevant facts". Well, I'm just trying to get to the sources upon which your argument rests. The data available on the web appears to contradict your argument.

*You claim that the articulation agreement changes lowers admission requirements. --The 2010 articulation agreement required a 2.0 transfer GPA for admittance into the UNC system. The January 2018 agreement (the latest available on the UNC system web page) requires a 2.0 transfer GPA. No difference in transfer GPA requirement. The articulation agreement IS the document establishing the rules for transferring from a community college to a UNC system university. . Can you provide a link to the document you are citing?

*You say the transfer numbers "skyrocketed" and "simple math" means standards lower. To calculate lower standards you would need to know the acceptance rate of transfer applications. I cannot find that percentage. But the transfer GPA of accepted students IS known and it has risen over the last decade from 2.53 to 3.1, a significant improvement. You can find this data provided by AppState at . So, the quality of transfer students has risen significantly rather than declined as you suggest. The number of transfer students has risen dramatically over the last decade but AppState appears to have actually dramatically improved the quality of accepted transfers rather than, as you suggest, lowered student quality.

You claim to have "facts." Please cite the source of your facts so whomever is following this exchange can confirm that they are facts and not just preferences or feelings without any factual basis.

The SAT scale changed (by about 70 pts) with the new SAT. So an 1190 in 2010 is a 1260 in 2019.


The transfer acceptance rate seems to be 88% as listed on the most recent Common Data Set published by Appalachian.



Thank you for the link to the common datasets. Regarding comparing old SAT scores to the post-2016 scores. I did look up the concordance tables to make these two scores comparable. The tables can be found at

The Fall 2010 freshman class composite score was 1139. An equivalent post-2016 score is 1210. The 2019 SAT score was 1189, a drop of 31 points. Is that a statistically significant drop indicating a lower admission standard as has been discussed here?

Looking at the College Board's own analysis of SAT predicting 1st year college GPA ("Validity of the SAT® for Predicting First-Year Grades"), a spread of 200 points on the SAT has no significant impact on 1st year college GPA. This result is not surprising given the high variability of SAT scores. The standard deviation is 210 points of a mean SAT score of 1059.

So the entering SAT scores IS lower now than in 2010 but the difference is meaningless when looking at how the SAT predicts 1st year GPA. By the way, all SAT validity studies show that scores have little predictive power on 2nd year GPA or on student persistence.


Correction: 1210-1189 = 21 point drop in avg SAT scores for entering freshman. Regrets for the error.



Looking at transfer acceptance rates. Percentage of transfer apps accepted in 2010: 88%. And, as you note, the acceptance rate in 2019 is the same: 88% So that stat, taken by itself, does not demonstrate any change in the quality of transfer students accepted at AppState.


Not my area so I'm not really sure what I am looking at so take this with a grain of salt - it seems to me that the transfer acceptance rate in 2010 was 82% - (looking at D2 from 2010). If they all meet the minimum college GPA for admission (2.25) then I guess there is a good chance they'll do ok -


Where do these people suppose that all of these new students will live? Each year there are new students that come and many who stay adding to the overpopulated Boone population without the additional 5000. Adding so many students to the mix would be outrageous. We hardly have room for new sidewalks let alone any kind of housing for 5000 humans and there cars. And can you even fathom the parking?! There is NO parking.

Exclusivety is what we should strive for.


I would argue that 'inclusivity' is what we are striving for. Those that can benefit should benefit for all of our sakes. And the future of our economy since the wealthy population is shrinking -


Scott Davidson: Appalachian has relied on student enrollment dollars for more than 45 years; it's not a new strategy. If the cost per new student enrollment were not profitable they wouldnt do it. Whether it "should be" so is irrelevant. The story briefly cites the base funding formula being low, but doesn't contextualize it adequately. No one would argue, likely, that increasing the base funding formula would answer the university's financial needs so that reliance on enrollment growth could significantly decrease. In 1978 then new chancellor Thomas told assembled faculty that "Appalachian will do more with less" state funding, and it's been doing that ever since. None of this justifies the growing concerns about quality of academic life or the local environmental effects of such a large enterprise in a very small town and county. Nonetheless, I'm glad to read your concerns. I dont believe any Watauga Democrat story in recent years has generated so much comment.

mike58: It's misleading to suggest that Appalachian has relied on enrollment growth dollars for 45 years. Previously, it relied much more on state funding and tuition increases, so only recently has Appalachian relied so much on it. It is a new strategy, but in part, it is due to state reductions in funding and state preventing tuition increases. The response has been to go after more 'customers' for enrollment growth funding. This new strategy is bad for the university and for the town.

Mike58. After a long career in leadership and service on boards, I assure you that increasing enrollment is not the only or the best way for a university to increase revenue. It is not the windfall that some people claim because adding students increases revenue but it also increases costs. It’s simultaneously increasing revenue and costs, so it essentially a wash. Or it should be. The trick is that the university is trying to ‘profit’ from enrollment growth. Increase enrollment to get more money, but then divert that money to things other than accommodating the additional students. This has led to severe problems with insufficient housing, classroom space, seats for students, course offerings, etc. This short cut strategy is not worth the damage that it creates for the quality of the university and the town. It’s easy. It only takes lowering standards with skyrocketing acceptance rates. But the lower quality hurts the university in the long run.

The worst part of the “strategy” is that it sets up a future scenario for complete failure because they are building capacity when the future need will drop significantly. The university will have to go to 100% acceptance to fill the place. It is simply unsustainable, and the harm will be lasting. There are other options for revenue. More effective fund raising, more creative partnerships, and better use of existing funding (i.e., actually prioritize academics). This does take more effort and skill, but given all the money going to the administration salaries and obscene raises, it seems this should be expected.

By the way, Appalachian receives less per student because it costs Appalachian less per student. Appalachian has few graduate programs (App faculty teach more, so need fewer faculty per student), few profession programs that require expensive facilities and faculty (med school, no pharmacy, no engineering, etc.). The university has pushed for changes in the funding model for many decades, and it never happens. Even with a change, it would not be a silver bullet. Rather than chasing money by simply adding students and lowering quality, we need leadership that is academically oriented and a real understanding of higher education.


Data contradicts the claim that expansion=dilution of student quality. SAT scores of entering freshman in 2010 was 1136. In 2019 it is 1189. HS GPA in 2010 was 3.92. This year it is 4.0. Both retention and graduation rates are increasing. None of these data indicate App State is lowering their standards to attract more students. Apparently the quality of entering freshmen is increasing rather than decreasing.

Universities are very good at playing the numbers game to hide what is really going on. For instance, the numbers you cite are for incoming freshman, which does not include 40% of incoming students (transfers). Including all incoming students will reveal a drop in these quality metrics. Appalachian is actually moving away from these metrics, which is another way to avoid showing the decline. It takes time for the effect to show up in graduation and retention rates, but we should expect to see them come down in the next 2-3 years. They also know how to rig the acceptance rate, but its still up to 75%. There is no question about it, and with the upcoming decline in high school graduates, it will get worse. The growth has consequences for the university and the town, and it is simply unsustainable.


Well, alright. Putting aside the conspiracy theories ("playing the numbers game to hide"; "avoid showing the decline:; "rig the acceptance rate".), in 2019, the university accepted 1449 transfer students. No data on the acceptance rate of transfers.

The average transfer GPA is 3.1. This means the average transfer student to the university had a B average. This is the only data available on transfer students. So any statements about transfers diluting the educational quality of AppState or artificially boosting the acceptance rate is, at best, sheer speculation.

A large percentage of transfers come from NC community colleges. Hardly surprising considering the statewide articulation agreement between community colleges and the UNC system. But the college transferring from does not, in and of itself, support any speculation on lowering the quality of the average AppState student.

There does not appear to be any data supporting your claim. You have not provided any actual data in your posts so I am left to conclude that you are just recording your feelings rather than conclusions based on an analysis of existing information.

There are plenty of facts. And I will point out that these tricks are common knowledge among administrators. They just aren't well-known by the public or parents. Now to the facts. First, you admit that transfers have an average of 3.0 which is much lower than the 4.0 of incoming freshman, and the number of transfers have been increasing dramatically. A recent agreement with a community college promises anyone with a 2.5 and maybe a 2.0 acceptance. It's a fact that the acceptance rate has skyrocketed.

The university responded by changing the application process to increase the number of applicants, which inflates the acceptance rate. It still went up. It is fact that the university is moving to a more wholistic process that doesn't rely on GPA and SAT. This makes it easier to justify accepting students that would not meet the previous standards. It's a clear fact that the quality of students have gone down, and it's due to a bad strategy that hurts the university and town.

@ rbirds, this is disingenuous. After all, 35% of new first year students at App are not "freshmen" because they transfer in from a community college or some other school. To look at and offer stats on the "freshmen" is to look only at those coming right from high school.


Then what information do you have supporting a claim that quality is suffering from over-enthusiastic recruiting of new students? Transfer students in 2018 and 2019 to AppState have transfer GPAs of 3.0 and 3.1, respectively. That is, their grades averaged "B" in their former college/university. Those are not the grade point averages of inferior students or of students pulled from the dregs of higher education merely to boost student numbers. Please reply with the data you use to make your conclusions.


While dilution of the intellectual quality of the ASU student body for the sake of gaining "customers" is certainly a concern, what about the impact of an ever increasing student enrollment on Boone and Watauga County? If ASU is adding hundreds of students each year, where are they going to live? On campus housing is certainly not keeping up with enrollment, so it falls to the surrounding communities to provide housing and other infrastructure to accommodate ASU's growth. It seems to me that ASU (and the UNC System) should be financially participating in Town and County housing and infrastructure improvements for the additional students they recruit each year.

At this rate what will the Boone look like in 20 years? Nothing but apartments and traffic jams?

craig dudley

its already just about nothing but apartments and traffic jams. monday it took me twenty minutes to go from the peddlin pig to 105 and king street/jeep dealer at two in the afternoon. a friend driving from daniel boone restaurant to wendys said it took an hour on the day the new 'students' were arriving. at noon the 321/105 intersection is usually backed up to burger king.


I understand the frustration in Scott Davidson's comment, but Barnes was not out of it to say the university needs new students to get money. Neither is Mojomartin wrong to insist on raising further the university's quality. Unless politicians, local and regional leaders, and alumni of the university join with university leadership to change dramatically the base funding formula of the university system, Appalachian will continue enrolling more students to get the funding it needs, which means also increasing physical plant, taking more marginally qualified stuents, etc. Appalachian is at the bottom, and has been so for nearly ever, of the system's funding formula--as one BOG member once said to a former chancellor "Appalachian is our Salvation Army campus". Enrolllment dollars are the only funding extras available to the university, and they have clearly also been abused. (I don't understand why there appears in this text lots of red lines).


Barnes' comment shows that the BOT members are in over their heads and are the problem. They have ZERO experience or training in higher eduction, but because they are wealthy donors, they are given a voice in leading the university. With their misguided leadership, this leadership is overseeing the clear and explicit decline of the quality of the university.

Dear Admin and BOT: The viability of the university depends on quality, not size. The mission of the university is instruction and research, not maximizing revenue. And thinking that students are customers demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of higher education, particularly at a public institution. Your efforts have already led to a decline in quality--admitting 75% of applicants, seriously? If you want money, will you stop using university funds to cover the tens of millions in losses by the athletic department (every year!) instead of lowering academic quality?

And, please take a breath and realize that it makes NO SENSE (business, academic or otherwise) to grow and expensive campus (infrastructure, buildings, personnel, etc.) when we will know there is a huge decline in "customers" on the horizon! Clearly, we'll be forced to lower standards even more to try to use the unnecessary capacity! What are we heading for 100% acceptance rate? We're heading that way for sure.

This is the era of decline for Appalachian. It is already painfully evident, and it will get much worse. It is the doing of this administration, this BOT and the legislature. The problem is that it's easy to dismantle, but it takes decades to build.

Appalachian State is now letting in weaker students just to get more students. And at the same time they are worrying about the future reality of fewer high school graduates in NC, so don't know how they will keep their enrollments high! This means faculty and staff will have to get fired when we have to shrink student enrollment back down, or there will be pressure to teach online to reach a broader group of students. Either way we are changing what Appalachian State means, ruining its reputation, and lowering the value of a degree from Appalachian. Why not control the growth- keep Appalachian a QUALITY institution and QUALITY education with 15,000 students? There is no good reason for growth, other than upping the number of "paying customers" (for whom we must hire more staff, build more buildings, and on and on).

I had to create an account to comment on this.

We need to stop them from expanding. There are now more students than people in this town, and the roads cannot handle it.

This is insanity. These transients also out-vote the locals!

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