Jo Allen, the first alumna to serve as Meredith College president, recently passed a milestone – five years of leading one of the largest women’s colleges in the United States.
As she reflected on the College’s accomplishments during that time, some themes became apparent – a focus on planning, building relationships, increasing the College’s visibility, strengthening its financial position, and helping students become stronger.
“Planning has been a big part of my focus,” Allen said. “We are quite serious about understanding and clarifying the context in which we operate and what we have to offer. We have taken advantage of the opportunity to plan and have been highly disciplined about implementing our plan.”
The College’s strategic plan, known as Meredith Forever, was approved in 2012, and continues to shape decision-making. The plan is built on six pillars: educational excellence; financial strength; enrollment; facilities and technology; visibility; and quality of life.
Allen is quick to credit the Meredith community for its integral role in the College’s success.
“I am so proud that our faculty, staff, students, alumnae, and trustees can recognize the value that each group and each individual brings to planning the future of this college,” said Allen.
Increasing Meredith’s Visibility
One of the first strategies put in place was the Meredith College | Going Strong brand, which was key to enhancing the College’s visibility because it clarified Meredith’s “critical essence” as an institution where students become stronger.
“Given the financial and enrollment upheavals experienced by so many small colleges, and especially women’s colleges, being able to proclaim that Meredith and her students are Going Strong has resounded among those who know us and those who now want to know us,” Allen said. “The phrase is heralded for its authenticity within and outside the College.”
In the last three years, Meredith has experienced strong enrollment retention and has expanded its academic programs. Meredith will welcome approximately 700 new undergraduate and graduate students in Fall 2016. The total student population is expected to be around 1,900 students, marking the third year in a row that total enrollment has increased. Graduate and post-baccalaureate program enrollment is up 26% over the previous year.
During Allen’s tenure, the College has launched a new undergraduate academic program in public health, two new concentrations in the Masters of Arts in Teaching program (health and physical education and special education), a new human resources concentration in the MBA program, and a post-baccalaureate pre-health certificate.
Another accomplishment is the launch of StrongPoints®, Meredith’s signature program of innovative, personal advising that helps students identify and develop their strengths in four areas of planning: academic, experiential, financial, and career.
StrongPoints also builds on the College’s longstanding strengths.
“Awakening students to their strengths and potential is something Meredith does particularly well,” Allen said. “It is our distinctive way of ‘empowering women’—a typically vague term that through a strengths-based focus gains definition, clarity, and refinement.”
Allen cites the increased success of the College’s fundraising efforts as evidence that the Meredith community is fully engaged in the College’s future.
“I am proud that people truly get this message of strength,” said Allen. “The ongoing success of our campaign, Beyond Strong, is a great testimonial to the respect Meredith College has earned.”
Beyond Strong │The Campaign for Meredith has raised more than $55 million toward its $75 million goal. This campaign has already surpassed the College’s previous campaign by $13 million and has received fifteen $1 million gifts compared to three in the last campaign.
In 2015-16, The Meredith Fund raised more than $2 million for the first time in history and in the past five years the percentage of alumnae giving has increased.
“The faculty/staff giving rate of 72.5 percent is great evidence that we truly believe in the work we are doing and in the future of our College and our students,” Allen said. “Investing in Meredith is an inspiring symbol of respect and pride.”
Meredith’s iconic Johnson Hall administration building is undergoing renovation. A $3.5 million gift from the Jud Ammons family, in memory of alumna Jo Ellen Ammons, is funding this project, which includes the addition of a welcome center. Other major facilities upgrades during Allen’s tenure include Belk Dining Hall, Cate/Park Center, Jones/Wainwright, and Mae Grimmer House. Donors also funded the creation of the Strengths Lab, a dedicated space that supports StrongPoints.
Pride in Serving Her Alma Mater
Allen draws inspiration from her status as the College’s first alumna president.
“Nothing is as rewarding as coming home and giving back to a place, a culture, and especially a body of colleagues and friends that helped shape who I am,” Allen said. “It is a powerful reminder that our strength comes not only from within but from what others offer to encourage us. To have the opportunity to contribute even a fraction of that inspiration, support, and guidance to future generations of Meredith students is humbling—and thrilling.”