Study: N.C. A&T growing rapidly, economic impact now $2.4 billion

The nation’s largest HBCU is defying headwinds, challenging other UNC System campuses

By: - August 11, 2023 5:55 am
a sign reads "North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University"

(Courtesy photo/

On Tuesday economists from N.C. A&T released a study documenting the latest in a series of milestones for the Greensboro university: a statewide economic impact of $2.4 billion.

That’s nearly a billion-dollar increase from the near $1.5 billion in economic impact a previous study found, based on 2017-2018 data. The effect is comparable to the creation and support of 17,337 jobs, according to the report.

“While North Carolina A&T’s value to the economy of North Carolina is larger than simply its economic impact, understanding the dollars-and-cents value is an important asset to understanding the university’s value as a whole,” said Cephas Naanwaab, who co-authored the study with fellow A&T economics professor Alfredo Romero.

Professor Cephas Naanwaab, co-author of the economic impact study. (Image: Joe Killian)

At a Tuesday event on campus, Cephas Naanwaab, a professor of economics at the university, walked the public through what A&T’s success means for Greensboro, the Triad and the state. For example, A&T alumni generated $702 million in added income, which the economists calculated had a total statewide impact of $1.2 billion.

For the last three years, U.S. News & World Report has ranked new A&T alumni the second-best compensated in the UNC System, behind only N.C. State University. The magazine’s “Best Colleges” issue found new alumni earn a median starting salary of $55,000.

Operational spending — including wages and benefits for the campus’s 1,973 full and part time employees — generated another $744 million. Spending by A&T students and visitors — including the annual “Greatest Homecoming on Earth” event — clocked another $222 million in economic impact.

The report found research expenditures, which continue to grow year over year, generated $157 million in impact.

“With a documented economic footprint across our state now of more than $2.4 billion and thousands of our graduates contributing to the North Carolina job market each year, our university is fulfilling its land-grant mission in profound, diverse ways,” said Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr, in a statement Tuesday. “The outcomes measured in this significant new study provide compelling evidence that investments in North Carolina A&T provide outstanding returns for the people of this state.”

Image: Courtesy of N.C. A&T

A remarkable turnaround

By most measures N.C. A&T, the largest of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), is one of the fastest growing and most successful in the 16-campus UNC System. In the last few years, as most campuses in the system have struggled with enrollment, fundraising and student success, A&T has repeatedly broken enrollment and fundraising records, expanded its campus footprint with new research centers and is charting some of the highest average GPAs in its history.

Fourteen years ago, when Martin took the helm at A&T, the picture was very different.

N.C. A&T University Chancellor Harold Martin (Image: Courtesy of N.C. A&T)

Martin is an engineer and former A&T professor who also worked with the UNC System. When Martin returned to A&T in 2009 as chancellor, he faced a long list of problems. Enrollment was nowhere near its current historic highs, but the larger concern was the success of students already at the university. Two years before Martin took office, 25% of A&T students were performing so poorly they were on academic probation.

HBCUs have historically been underfunded and cheated out of proper allocations as land grant universities, and A&T was among them. Campus finances, facilities and infrastructure were in poor shape. Shortly before Martin was announced as chancellor, a student was shot and killed in off-campus housing, lending fuel to mounting concerns about the safety of the campus and its surrounding east Greensboro neighborhoods.

Raising the school’s standards, for admissions and expectations of performance. were key, Martin said. A school quick to crow about “Aggie Pride” had to put up the numbers to justify that pride.

Today, those numbers tell the story.

The average entering student grade point average for North Carolina students at A&T is now 3.8. For out-of-state students, the average entering GPA is 4.1. Between 2011 and 2021, applications grew 246% — the fastest of any traditional university in the U.S. The second fastest-growing UNC System school, UNC-Chapel Hill, saw about half that rate of growth.

“We’ve distinguished ourselves nationally in terms of the quality of the students we bring into the university,” said Todd Simmons, associate vice chancellor for University Relations at A&T. “In terms of the quality of the students we graduate year over year, it continues to grow and develop a real national reputation for our university both in the HBCU lane and in the doctoral research university lane as well.”

In the coming fall semester, A&T will have 13,487 students — the highest enrollment ever recorded not just at A&T but at any HBCU. Enrolling as many qualified North Carolina residents as it can, the school has also twice successfully argued to have the out-of-state student cap lifted by the UNC Board of Governors.

“We have been very intentional about the excellence we already have here,” said Tonya Smith-Jackson, provost and executive vice chancellor at A&T.

Increased allocations from the state and the UNC System have made a big difference, Smith-Jackson said, as has ensuring that the university’s successes are more visible. It’s important that A&T be branded not just as one of the best HBCUs in the state and the nation. but one of the best institutions overall, she said. Students and sought-after scholars have responded, coming to A&T in greater numbers.

“The more the UNC System and the state of North Carolina invest in A&T, the return on investment leads to an even greater impact for the overall state,” Smith-Jackson said.

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Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.