Classes began Monday for Appalachian State University students not only in Boone, but also at its new campus approximately 45 miles south in Hickory.
Appalachian State has been planning for a capacity of 300 to 500 students for its first year on the Hickory campus, with the official count not available until “census day” on Sept. 1. Appalachian State expects enrollment numbers in Hickory to double, if not triple, for the next several years, says Chancellor Sheri Everts. About 20,400 students enrolled at Appalachian State last fall in Boone, about 200 less than in 2021.
The Hickory campus will offer more than 100 undergraduate degree programs, and will have about 50 faculty members working on campus.
“I really do think I’m going to get my dreams accomplished here,” says Macy Carson as she walks through the hallway toward her 11 a.m. class. The East Burke High 2023 graduate says she was attracted to the Hickory campus because she can go to Appalachian State and still live at home – and because of its cost – which this year included a $2,000 “Hickory First Scholarship” offered to all inaugural students, cutting tuition from around $8,000 to $6,000 a year, before any other financial aid or scholarships.
“It’s really close to home, and the price is really good,” says Carson. She hopes an entrepreneurship degree will help her start a business involving putting her original artwork, some of it Christian-based, on clothing and other items.
The Unifour counties – led by Catawba County with 161,723 residents in 2021 – had been the largest metropolitan area in North Carolina without the footprint of a four-year public university. Burke County, with about 87,500 residents, Caldwell County with about 80,400 residents, and Alexander County with about 36,600 residents make up the Unifour. In comparison, Appalachian State’s home county of Watauga had about 54,200 residents in 2021, according to the Census Bureau.
Hickory is also home to Lenoir-Rhyne University, a private institution with about 2,600 students, including some online, and affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
‘A’ for Appalachian
A large, iconic “A” for Appalachian helps mark the 225,000-square-foot, five-story building located just off U.S. 321 – a main corridor between Hickory and Charlotte and for those traveling to the North Carolina “High Country.” The former Hickory Furniture Mart first occupied the site in the 1960s, followed by both expansion and other businesses. Corning Optical Communications employed about 750 to 800 people there before moving its North Carolina headquarters to north Charlotte in 2019, says Vice Chancellor Nick Katers, who manages App State’s facilities.
Appalachian State paid Corning $1.02 million for the building in 2021. The next year, the state legislature gave the university $9 million to renovate it and make technology upgrades. With a below-ground floor also, the six-floor building is bigger than any of those on the Boone campus.
Catawba County Economic Development President Scott Millar says the Hickory campus has the most prominent building along the U.S. 321 corridor between the Virginia and South Carolina state lines. The big “A” on its facade helps buttress Catawba County’s economic efforts, he says. Having a public university there will also help more students get a college education.
“It opens up another pathway for students to maneuver around for better opportunities and find their way to the top,” says Millar, president of Catawba County Economic Development since 1997.
A majority of the students attending the new campus come from either Burke, Catawba or Caldwell counties, according to the university. The 15.7-acre site is in the same general area as the Hickory Regional Airport and L.P. Frans Stadium, home field for the Hickory Crawdads minor league baseball team. It’s about a five-minute drive from downtown.
For now, the university is only using the 65,000-square-feet on the first floor for 10 classrooms, a library, student services and common areas. The building’s fifth story – only about a third of the size of the first story– will be used for administration. A below-ground floor will feature a gym, although equipment will arrive in the next few days. The second story – about 50,000 square feet – will open in the fall of 2024 for more classrooms, says Katers.
Katers shows off part of the first story common area and says at one time it had about 100 cubicles for Corning employees. The area now has sofas, chairs and desks, but it also has several places where either individuals or small groups can go and work quietly without disruption.
“It’s designed for the way students learn today, which is collaborative,” says Katers. A new building of this size would have cost $90 million, he adds.
Back on track
Having a public university near her home means Keonna Reinhardt, a 2014 graduate of Catawba County’s St. Stephens High, can now work toward a four-year degree in finance. She went to Catawba Valley Community College right out of high school, she says, but lacked direction and then became pregnant. Her 6-year-old son, Jacobi, starts first grade this year.
“I wanted to go back to school, but the only thing stopping me was finances,” she says. She went back to CVCC to earn her two-year degree and now has her sights set on a job as a financial adviser. She’ll continue to work 30-plus hours a week as a waitress at First Watch in Hickory and care for her son, while going to school full time.
It won’t be easy, she says, but adds it will be worth it.
“When I woke up I was a little nervous, so I said a prayer,” says Reinhardt. “And now, here I am. Classes are about to start, and I don’t have any worries.”