MONEY TALKS: App State Board Approves Small Fee Increases, Learns That Sustainability Pays

MONEY TALKS: App State Board Approves Small Fee Increases, Learns That Sustainability Pays
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Chancellor Sheri Everts had a lot to smile about in addressing the Appalachian State Board of Trustees

By David Rogers. December 10, 2016. BOONE, NC — Arguably the most stunning revelation gleaned from the series of Appalachian State University Board of Trustees meetings on Thursday and Friday:  What’s missing.

COVER IMAGE: The Board of Trustees approved tuition and fee proposals. All images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

During Thursday’s Business Affairs Committee meeting on the 4th floor of Plemmons Student Union, Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Paul Forte reported to committee members that because of the sustainability initiatives adopted and implemented by the university, from the 2002-3 academic year through 2015-16, campus-wide water usage declined 51% and energy use plummeted 41%.  “In energy costs alone,” Forte noted, “the university has avoided more than $23 million in potential costs.”

Forte added, “These avoided costs are NOT because of the recent decline in energy prices, but because of the conservation and efficiency steps implemented.”

The university has avoided more than $23 million in potential costs.

The former vice chancellor for finance at UNC-Charlotte and assistant vice president for finance and controller at Rhode Island College joined App State’s executive team just four months ago, but he broke into a big smile when he recalled to Blowing Rock News during a break, “The people around here are living the sustainability mission. It’s about acquiring good habits. I was here but only a week or so when a couple of the people working for me approached to say, ‘Hey Paul, you have to turn the lights out in your office when you leave at night.”

To Fee Or Not To Fee, That Is The Question

On and off the field, App State Athletics is the center of attention.

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ASG President Jalyn Howard voiced strong objections to the Athletics fee increase.

After a full day of committee meetings on Thursday to arrive at needed recommendations to the full body, Friday’s board meeting was mostly about formality and rubber-stamping the various committees’ guidance. There was very little in the way of discussion, much less discord.

The Board’s approval of a relatively small (2%) increase in tuition for incoming freshmen next academic year and a 3% increase in general fees (required of all students) was noteworthy in that there was actually a dissenting vote, even if from the most likely source: Associated Student Government President Jalyn Howard.

Water usage declined 51%.  Energy use plummeted 41%.

Howard voiced his objections to a proposed $22 increase in the Athletics fee paid by all students during Thursday’s Business Affairs Committee meeting.  That group modified a sub-committee’s recommendation on general fees in aggregate, increasing them from 2.64% to the full 3% permitted by HB 1030 legislation, which was passed by the General Assembly this past July and provided guidance to the UNC Board of Governors. Over Howard’s strongly voiced objections, the Business Affairs Committee took the Athletics fee increase from $12 to $22, and in the process jumped the overall increase to the full 3% amount permitted.

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Board member Kenan Smith explains principles of “Business 101” to the Business Affairs Committee if they were to avoid moving the university toward mediocrity.

The ASG President did not repeat his objections before the full board — but his “nay” vote nonetheless rang loud and clear, prompting many in the audience who had not attended the Thursday meeting to whisper among themselves with a degree of incredulity.

During a late afternoon interview with Blowing Rock News on Thursday, Howard explained that his objections stem primarily from the committee’s decision to raise General Fees overall by the maximum of 3% for the 2017-2018 academic year with a particular concern about the Athletics fee increase.  The student body president had apparently worked on a sub-committee to craft recommendations to the full committee and their recommendation was for the 2.64% increase.  That included increases of $31 per student for Health Services and just a $12 increase for Athletics, even though the latter department had requested a $22 increase.

Somewhat ironically, Health Services had asked for a $21 increase, but a group of sub-committee members that included Howard were effective in raising the Health Services allocation of fee increases to the $31 recommendation.

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Audit Committee chairman Charlie Murray was able to report that all issues were either satisfactorily resolved or being resolved by management.

Howard further explained his dissent to Blowing Rock News by noting that Athletics has other sources of revenue and a much larger number of App State students would need to be attending athletic games and competitions in order to justify larger than a $12 increase.

Hey Boss, you have to turn the lights out in your office when you leave at night.

By explanation, Howard stated that the recent Miami football game at Kidd-Brewer attracted a reported 12,000 students, “…and that is the most in the history of the school. But that is misleading because the average student attendance, is closer to 4,000 students, or less than 25% of the undergraduate enrollment.”

“When the decision was made to move to the Sun Belt Conference,” he noted, “we were told that it would not be on the backs of students in the form of student fee increases.”

Relativity Vs. Reality

The degree to which the move to the Sun Belt Conference is being accomplished “on the backs of students” undoubtedly is open to interpretation and individual perspective.

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Athletic Director Doug Gillin shared with the Athletics Committee on Thursday that several members of the Sun Belt in which the university competes are making major upgrades to facilities, most notably Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Troy, South Alabama and Louisiana-Lafayette, among others.

An updated and consolidated spreadsheet detailing the various tuition, academic, general and debt service fees since the 2012-13 academic year (when the decision to move to the Sun Belt Conference was becoming a reality) was obtained by Blowing Rock News upon request from the Business Affairs Office of the university.  The athletics-only portion (not including the marching band) of general fees for the 2012-13 academic year was $646. After the Board of Trustees voted to approve the 2017-18 increase of $22, the athletics fee next year will be $755. If our math is right, that five year increase represents a compounded growth rate slightly more than 3.00%.

Folks who coped with double digit inflation in the late 1970s might describe a 3% growth rate as on the higher end of paltry, but it is still double the approximately 1.50% growth rate of the Consumer Price Index over the past 5 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  Except for Howard’s dissenting vote the Business Affairs Committee on Thursday and the full Board on Friday agreed that the full 3% increase was warranted.

This is Business 101.

Discussion during Thursday’s committee meeting centered on [a] a presumably smarter business decision to raise fees the full 3% permitted, and [b] supporting the importance of athletics as not just to provide valuable learning experiences for student athletes, but its activities represent a valuable branding mechanism for the university as a whole.

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Board Vice Chair Jimmy Barnes, right, makes a point about relative fee increases.

Informal discussions on Thursday among committee members and other non-member participants were frequently highlighted by observations that the performance of Appalachian State’s football program over the years, for example, have served to bring regional and even national spotlights on the university.

“Upsetting Michigan in 2007 and winning back-to-back-to-back FCS national championships from 2005 to 2007 are arguably less important to the university’s core mission than, say, the work of a molecular biology professor and his student research team,” said one unidentified committee member during a break, “but the positive attention that beating Michigan or being selected for the Camellia Bowl brings to the university from a marketing perspective is enormous. Just look at the jump in applications for enrollment.

“And for the school’s health and exercise science major looking for a job when they graduate?,” she added, “They may not even have gotten an interview when potential employers were reviewing job candidates before, but when App State beats Michigan, then that human resource professional has to wonder what the Mountaineers are doing — academically — in their exercise science programs.”

When it was brought to light during Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Paul Forte’s committee presentation (on Thursday) that the annual limit for the overall general fee increase is 3% under the provisions of HB 1030 and that what was being proposed was an increase of only 2.64%, Board member Kenan Smith remarked that it is “Business 101” to take the full amount permissable. “If your peer universities in North Carolina are raising their fee resources by 3% and you are raising yours less than that, then you are falling behind…If you aspire to mediocrity, then that is the decision that you will make…”

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Board member Susan Branch reported from the Academic Affairs Committee, which she chairs

Someone asked university Controller David Jamison what dollar increase would take the overall fee increase to the 3.00% maximum allowable, and he replied, “Right at $10.00.”

Board member Charlie Murray was quick to suggest that the original athletics request be reinstated in the committee’s recommendation to the full board, taking it from the presented $12 to the full $22 requested by Athletic Director Doug Gillin.  A motion was quickly made to that effect, seconded, and passed by the committee with the only “nay” vote coming from Howard.

Sustainability is a consideration in every decision we make regarding curriculum, growth, community engagement and stewardship.

Whether or not his objections were justified, Howard stayed true to his campaign promises in getting elected by the students last spring. According to an August 16, 2016 article in The Appalachian (student newspaper) authored by Carrie Hall, Howard and ASG Vice President Kendrick Dawson campaigned for election with a platform emphasizing the allocation of student fees as “…highest on their list of priorities.”

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George Baldwin is chair of the Board’s Athletic Committee

In his interview with Blowing Rock News on Thursday, Howard identified Health Services as a higher priority than Athletics for the allocation of student fees. “Without the Health Services fee increase, we don’t have Health Services by the end of (next) year,” Howard claimed after pulling out a table that showed deficits averaging in the neighborhood of $600,000 annually in the health services program.

Hitting The High Notes

The relatively small controversy over tuition and fee increases aside, Friday’s Board of Trustee’s meeting was revealing in the university’s accomplishments.  Chancellor Dr. Sheri Everts listed several of those in her opening remarks:

  • Appalachian State’s continuing leadership in sustainability, both academically and in practice. “It is a consideration in every decision we make regarding curriculum, growth, community engagement, and stewardship.”
    • Appalachian is ranked FIRST among master’s granting institutions on the Association for the Advancement of Sustanability in Higher Education’s (ASHE) “2016 Sustainable Campus Index,” which ranks top-performing  colleges and universities throughout the world in 17 areas, as well as overall, as measured in ASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (referred to as STARS). “Let me repeat: Appalachian was ranked FIRST overall among all of the participating institutions across the world,” Everts smiled.
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      Blowing Rock’s Alice Roess, center, is the current Chair of the Appalachian State University Board of Trustees and called the meeting to order.

      Appalachian ranked #2 in the area of Curriculum and #5 in the Buildings and Facilities category

    • Everts announced that Dr. Lee Ball, Jr. has been named Director of Sustainability for the university, after serving in the same role on an interim basis since June 2015.
    • Professor Ged Moody and Interim Chief of Staff Debbie Covington have begun work on planning for the 6th annual Appalachian Energy Summit. Said Everts, “Appalachian’s leadership in this event has provided a platform through which UNC campuses, together with industry partners, have avoided more than $499 million in utility costs.”

We’re bowl bound.

  • On November 11th, Appalachian observed Veterans Day with an emotional morning ceremony for the opening of the Major General Edward M. Reeder, Jr. Student Veteran Resource Center. “Opening the center is a key move forward in Appalachian’s long tradition of working with veterans and their families,” Everts observed. In reporting on the Veterans Center opening, Everts recognized the grant work by faculty members and “…some terrific advocacy work by Student Veteran Association President Dan Pegram.”
  • Everts also pointed out that November 11th was also the day that famed actor Ben Vereen visited Appalachian to lead a master class on musical theatre for three theatre majors chosen by Department of Theatre and Dance professors Derek Gagnier and Keith Martin.
  • The Chancellor acknowledged the many contributions to the academic world’s published research, with a special spotlight on the work of the Department of Geology’s Dr. Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce and here research around the age and formation of the largest assemblage of Homo sapiens’ footprints discovered to date. The more than 400 footprints are between 19,000 and 10,000 years old and the research is now with paleo-anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institution and the American Museum of Natural History. “Dr. Liutkus-Pierce received widespread media attention,” Everts pointed out, “landing her on the front page of The Washington Post and articles in National Geographic, the Huffington Post, Christian Science Monitor and the BBC….This is just one story of the important research conducted by our faculty that leads to new knowledge in the field and strengthened classroom experiences for our students.”
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    Susan McCracken spoke to the Student Development Committee about Career Development initiatives and research

    An important initiative led by Susan McCracken in the Career Development Center and Heather Langdon in the Office of Institutional Research has revealed key data about the success of Appalachian students after graduation. “The First Destination Project is a national effort of campuses across the nation to track what students are doing — or that first destination — immediately after graduation.  The work of Susan, Heather and their colleagues is significant in that it builds on the national model, but pulls data from multiple sources, allowing for a more complex picture of the success of our newest Appalachian alumni,” said Everts. “Appalachian’s team managed to track over 73% of the university’s (recent) graduates. The national standard for tracking is 65%…Nearly 85% of undergraduate and nearly 100% of graduate alumni are employed or enrolled in an institution of post-secondary education within one year of graduation.”

  • Chancellor Everts recognized Dean Bill Pelto (Hayes School of Music) and Dean Fred Whitt (College of Health Sciences) for their acceptance of positions with other prestigious institutions. No information was provided for either man’s new affiliation, but Everts noted that Pelto is chairing the search for a new Vice Chancellor of Advancement for Appalachian State. On October 24, 2016, Blowing Rock News was first to break the story of Dr. Whitt’s being named the new President of Lenoir-Rhyne University (CLICK HERE for that story).

What a monumental legacy he left us. He will be missed.

  • Everts pointed out that under the leadership of Dr. Darrell Kruger (Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs) and Dr. Randy Edwards (Interim Vice Chancellor for University Advancement) the 2025 Master Plan is moving forward. She noted the leadership team’s several meetings to receive input from many different constituent interest groups both within and outside of the university.
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    Paul Forte reviews master planning documents.

    “We’re bowl bound,” the Chancellor smiled broadly to the Board of Trustees members and the estimated three dozen others in attendance. “We are excited about the national spotlight that the achievements of our student-athletes will shine on the entire university as we participate in the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama on December 17th.  Congratulations to our student-athletes, to head coach Scott Satterfield and his staff, to Athletic Director Doug Gillin, and to all of our colleagues in Athletics.”

  • Current Board of Trustees member and former board chairman Brad Adcock was named on Thursday as Governor-elect Roy Cooper’s legislative director, overseeing the governor’s relationship with the North Carolina House and Senate.

Everts concluded her remarks on a more somber note.

“This is a very exciting time made bittersweet by the passing of Yosef Club Director Gerald Adams, who was known far and wide as ‘Mr. Yosef.’ Along with his wife Julia, Gerald represents the deep love and passion that Mountaineers feel for this special place. His tireless work on behalf of our students, the seemingly endless generosity of time and talent that he and Julia offered so freely, and the support they have provided for student scholarships, athletics, the arts, the diversity festival, and so much more have made a tremendous and lasting positive impact on our university…What a monumental legacy he has left us. He is greatly missed.”

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