BOONE — Faculty on Nov. 11 expressed concerns that Appalachian State’s admission rate could rise to 90 percent of applicants in order to reach the university’s 20,000-student enrollment goal, which some said could lower the institution’s academic prestige and quality.
The goal for fall 2020 was announced by university administrators in early September, when Chancellor Sheri Everts stated that the enrollment growth would bring in needed tuition revenue and would bolster the school’s position in Chapel Hill and in Raleigh. The university’s enrollment was 19,280 at the beginning of the current school year.
At the Nov. 11 meeting, Provost Darrell Kruger explained that in order to meet the goal, the university will need to add 720 new students — with a buffer of 131 students to account for those graduating in December (totaling 851). Of this number, the university’s targets are 400 online/satellite students, 100 on-campus graduate students and 301 undergraduate students. He added that it’s projected that the university will exceed its spring enrollment goal by 50 students.
To aid in expanding online education opportunities to help with the growth, Kruger said that he appointed Ben Powell — a former faculty senator — to the position of interim vice provost for online learning. Kruger added that Powell met with university deans to discuss existing program offerings and gauge capacity for expanding growth, and that programs with immediate growth potential have been identified.
Kruger added that to maintain the quality of a “transformational education experience,” the university has to invest resources in academic enterprise. He said the plan would be to add 10 new faculty tenure-track positions and three new advisor positions. In the last five years, the university has added 43 new faculty and 11 advisor positions, Kruger said.
Richard Elaver, a faculty senator and associate professor in the Applied Design Department, presented a report on the 20,000 goal conducted by the senate’s campus planning committee. Elaver explained that the committee was charged last month with looking into the potential impact from this goal.
The report takes into account how the university plans to meet the goal and the impacts to the quality of instruction, space and classroom needs, student housing and wellness resources and the town of Boone.
Committee members spoke with Cindy Barr (associate vice chancellor for enrollment management at Appalachian) and Alexis Pope (director of admissions). According to the report, a combination of increased graduation rates, decreased transfer enrollments and a decrease in high school students going to college add to the pressure of maintaining enrollment.
When deciding who to admit, the university looks at the students who are applying in different “academic bands” based on test scores, academic achievement and a review of the application, according to the report. The likelihood of students in the higher academic bands ultimately enrolling in App State is lower than the students in the middle and lower end of the admitted student pool because those students may have additional higher education options, Elaver explained.
Because of this, the university may have to admit more applicants to meet its enrollment goal, according to the report. The report adds that the university had a 77 percent admission rate for the current school year, but it could go up as high as 90 percent in 2020.
Based on information the committee was told by administrators, it came to the conclusion that App State will likely select more students from academic bands that have not been admitted before, which could impact its average GPA and SAT scores. However, the strategy is to recruit heavily from the top band of students, the report states.
Faculty Senator Scott Marshall, a professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, presented enrollment data to those at the meeting. Marshall said that the university’s acceptance rate was in the low 60s in 2012 and was approximately 69 percent in 2018. He expressed that acceptance rates can be seen as a level of prestige, and had concerns about App State stepping down as a “relatively selective” institution and diminishing its quality.
“I fear we will lose who we are as Appalachian because we’re trying to make this arbitrary goal,” said Barbara Howard, an associate professor of school administration in the Department of Leadership and Educational Studies. “I fear that what we will accomplish will be far less than the tremendous impact.”
Howard also expressed frustration that Faculty Senate wasn’t consulted about the 20,000 goal. She added that a more strategic approach should be taken to grow programs instead of trying to gain more applicants through increasing the admission rate.
Some immediate academic areas of concern for the growth are first-year seminar courses, freshman English classes, physical education, math and other general education courses, Elaver said. He explained that 34 new first-year seminar classes would be needed to accommodate 850 students with the addition of four full-time non-tenure-track faculty.
He added that an additional 80 sections of science courses would have to be offered to cover the additional demands. This would impact scheduling as well.
“We already have existing issues of students not being able to get the classes they need because courses aren’t offered as regularly as expected,” Elaver said. “Adding additional students into this would then compound those kinds of issues.”
When discussing impacts on space and classroom needs, the committee spoke with Heather Langdon (executive director of Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning), Art Rex (director of Space Management and Planning) and Rick Sears (director of Strategic Analytics and Institutional Research). The report states that Sears has created an analytic tool to identify “seat demand” to predict what students will take which classes.
Rex stated that there is sufficient space for lecture courses to accommodate additional students. However, there could be a problem with classroom settings that need a smaller class size — such as labs or art studios — that could create “bottlenecking,” Elaver said.
When speaking with J.J. Brown, vice chancellor for student affairs, the committee learned that 300 to 400 beds are already being added through a housing project. The university also plans to keep East Hall open for additional beds; it had previously been planned to be replaced. When it comes to wellness resources, the university is currently taking an inventory of their scope and capacity. The report states that the university is exploring ways to collaborate with existing graduate programs, but no commitments have been made.
When taking the town of Boone into account, Elaver said the committee spoke with Boone Town Manager John Ward.
“He was unaware of the expectation to grow by this number of students and wanted to get some clarification on how the university thinks that might unfold,” Elaver said.
According to Elaver, Ward said that the town would want to know what steps are being taken to expand housing and parking. This is in addition to discussions of how the expansion may impact town-provided services — such as water, sewer, garbage collection and emergency services. Loretta Clawson, a Boone Town Council member, added that the balance between the university population and the natural and infrastructural limits of the town have “reached a peak,” according to the report. Clawson asked if the university would limit first-year students from bringing cars, according to Elaver.
The Faculty Senate passed a resolution during the meeting requesting that Everts appear at the Dec. 9 meeting to address concerns stated in the report as the information from administrators “does not fully clarify how the goal is necessary or justifiable,” the report states.