In August 2020, Appalachian State University welcomed 20,023 students, a landmark enrollment for the university, it announced on Aug. 28.
The university announced in September 2019 its goal to reach a student enrollment goal of 20,000 students by fall 2020 in order to increase financial stability as well as its standing within the University of North Carolina system. At that time, Chancellor Sheri Everts said this goal would increase tuition revenue “for classroom resources, for salaries and additional personnel, for innovative and creative teaching and research endeavors.”
According to the university, numbers from the fall 2020 census data and the Office of Admissions as of Aug. 28 also show significant increases in first-year underrepresented students.
Appalachian enrolls 5,992 rural students — more than 300 students above the University of North Carolina System strategic plan benchmark for this year — and 6,100 first-generation undergraduate students, which is 34 percent of the total undergraduate population.
A record 18 percent of the total population is racially/ethnically diverse. Appalachian has increased its total underrepresented student population by 56 percent since 2014, it said. The university has also seen a 97 percent increase in first-year underrepresented students since 2014, nearly doubling that enrollment in six years, the university stated.
Undergraduate enrollment has increased by 543, or 3 percent, for a total of 18,061. Graduate student enrollment is up 11 percent for a total of 1,962. App State Online enrollment (undergraduate and graduate) has increased by more than 18 percent for a total of 1,513. New online graduate students have increased by nearly 30 percent from last year.
“These accomplishments speak directly to the tremendous efforts of our faculty and staff, as they continue to deliver top-quality educational experiences for our students, even amid a global pandemic unlike anything our university has encountered,” Chancellor Sheri Everts said in a statement. “Appalachian continues to attract and retain high-caliber students who graduate and embody the promise of higher education as they make positive contributions to communities across North Carolina and beyond.”
Another key performance indicator for universities across the nation is the first- to second-year retention rate. Appalachian’s overall 2020 first- to second-year retention rate is 86.5 percent, more than 12 points above the national average, it said. Among underrepresented students, that rate is 83.5 percent, outperforming the overall national average for all students by 9 points.
“Our strong retention rate is a testament to our rigorous academic programs and comprehensive student support services. We want our students to successfully matriculate and experience all Appalachian has to offer,” Everts said.
The university opened two new residence halls for the fall 2020 semester — Thunder Hill and Raven Rocks — that provide a combined 912 beds and 240,550 square feet. A third is under construction. Justice Hall is being demolished to make way for the construction of a fourth residence hall.
The 20,000 enrollment goal has been criticized by some faculty and Boone community members. During a November 2019 Faculty Senate meeting, faculty expressed concerns about the potential of negatively impacting the university’s academic quality as well as resources and space for the increase in students.
These concerns were exacerbated when the state started to shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the university stated a month later that it was still charging toward the 20,000 enrollment goal. Through the spring and summer, university employees and community members have expressed concerns about bringing students back to the area.
As of Aug. 25, App State was one of the largest University of North Carolina universities still holding in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, East Carolina and UNC-Charlotte have each made the transition to hosting all undergraduate classes online amid rising COVID-19 infection rates.
Since students moved to campus on Aug. 10, App State has seen an uptick in case numbers. On Sept. 1, the active case count included 46 students and one employee. Since March 27, the university has confirmed a total 188 cases in students, 25 in employees and 41 in subcontractors.
Kayla Lasure and Anna Oakes contributed reporting to this article.