App State holds town hall, examines UNC System plan for university


Zoey Sigmon, Reporter

App State administration hosted a virtual town hall meeting March 22, inviting students and faculty to discuss the UNC System’s projected and current strategic plan for the university. 

Andrew Kelly, senior vice president for the Strategy and Policy division of the UNC System, presented a summary of the plan’s performance and allowed for potential additions or suggestions from those in attendance. The meeting was open to the public, including students and faculty, to ask questions and provide feedback following the discussion.

Executive Vice Chancellor Heather Norris said attendees with allotted time should comment with the five-system plan strategic themes in mind. The system’s strategic plan themes include affordability, access, student success, efficiency and community engagement.

Chancellor Sheri Everts acknowledged the university’s part in the UNC System and asked those in attendance two questions for later commentary. Everts asked the attendees: what are you focused on and would like to see refreshed in the strategic plan and should be kept in the refreshed plan? What, if anything, should be revised in the current plan?

Kelly said the current plan was originally written in fall 2016 and approved by the board of governors in early 2017. The plan’s intention was to identify a set of themes fundamental to the UNC System’s work. 

Kelly said the Strategy and Policy division establishes plans enabling more current and potential student opportunities. Each theme focuses on setting different goals specific to the institution’s demographic, such as access for students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“The five themes are as relevant as ever,” Kelly said. “You know, there’s a phrase in journalism; they call it an evergreen. It’s a story you can write, and you can publish it at any time because it’s always relevant. The good news is that these themes are what public higher education is about. The bad news, of course, is there’s a lot more work to do on all of them.”  

In the discussion, Kelly acknowledged the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the system’s plan and the impacted students pursuing higher education. 

Mark Ginn, vice provost for Undergraduate Education, said the impact of the pandemic on low-income students was notable and significantly higher than the effects on other students.

“When the last plan was developed, we had no idea the impact that the COVID pandemic would have on higher education,” Ginn said. 

Ginn said analyzing data from the plan’s progress highlighted the impact of the pandemic.

“I hope that you will consider prioritizing reaching out to these low-income students that may have dropped out or had their progress to degree hampered by the pandemic in helping them to get back on track to earning a college degree,” Ginn said. 

Sarah Sandreuter, a junior sustainable development major, was the only student who spoke at the meeting. Students could also type in the Zoom chat. Sandreuter said the current plan did not mention sustainability as a top priority. 

“There is no student success on a planet that is dying,” Sandreuter said. “The economic impact of our schools will not matter when we are living through deathly and costly environmental disasters.”

Kelly said the UNC System’s strategic plan works to improve the state’s educational institutions through a network of partnerships and resources. Kelly also said that the system looks forward to seeing the refreshed plan’s growth at App State. 

“We want to increase investment in strengthening N.C. communities and really, you know, App State, I think understands this better than anyone,” Kelly said. 

Clarification: This story has been updated with more information.