Appalachian's role in the new economy

It's more than you think

The world offers a complex cocktail of social and economic challenges.  Universities exist to prepare individuals for these challenges while also expanding and applying the knowledge to mitigate them. With such an important role to play, Appalachian State University does much more than provide skills for a post-graduate job. 

Of course each student – and his or her parents – hopes for a good-paying job upon graduation. But this isn’t enough. Gone are the days when a graduate secures a company job with great benefits, raises a family in that same town, and retires from that company at age 65. An increasingly high-tech and global economy makes job market shifts a certainty, and that means one’s first job after graduation is only the first hurdle in what promises to be a lifetime of career changes, continuing education and geographic moves.

We at the university hope to prepare students for life by empowering them to navigate the ever-shifting economic and social landscapes. Job specific skills are necessary, but lifelong success is increasingly dependent on transferable skills and general knowledge because they determine a person’s ability to adapt and innovate in a volatile landscape. 

Graduates must understand how the world works and how they can best position themselves in it, and such understanding is not realized from a single course or a narrowly focused set of courses. It is provided by a curriculum that includes the humanities and liberal arts, and the social and natural sciences. And at Appalachian, it doesn’t stop in the classroom. Our residential campus offers a wide range of extracurricular activities – from undergraduate research to public lectures to community internships to political groups to outdoor recreation – that provides opportunities to develop interpersonal, citizenship and leadership skills.

Perhaps even more important than what the university does for its students is what it does for society at large. Indeed, the social benefits arising from universities are the reasons public universities exist. University-related research advances both human and economic development. Research at Appalachian has contributed to improving human health, rural economies, public policy and environmental management, among many other important challenges. University-related research is also an engine for economic growth. Because North Carolina has invested in higher education, the 17 campuses of the University of North Carolina system are home to some of the best research faculty and programs in the nation.

These strong research programs secure about a billion dollars from outside sources, which leads to high-paying and cutting-edge economic activity. This activity attracts some of the brightest people and companies to the state. North Carolina’s ranking as 10 in the nation for university-related research and development explains why it is ranked 12 for private industry research and development. Without the strong research faculty and programs at UNC campuses, both university and private research and development would be taking place elsewhere.

A 2010 study by Appalachian’s Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis confirms that research faculty and programs at UNC campuses are a good investment. The study reports that an $80 million state appropriation for graduate programs and research attracts about $850 million in economic activity that creates over 8,000 jobs. Even better, this new activity generates about $90 million in additional tax revenue, which more than recovers the initial investment.

Even those who don’t attend college or who completed college long ago benefit from those who are going to college now because a better educated populace advances both human and economic development. Studies show that college attainment leads to better health outcomes, less criminal activity, higher incomes, less poverty, and more civic participation and voluntarism. Given that people with a college education also contribute more and demand less from government, these important social and economic gains are achieved while also providing substantial net savings to governments. 

There is great wisdom in North Carolina’s constitutional requirement that tuition should remain low at UNC campuses, because by keeping the door to college open to all deserving people, we all do better. Indeed, funding public higher education does not compete with programs that target health, crime, civil rights and poverty for government funding; education is a solution to such problems.