Staying the Course While Charting New Waters

When Agnes Scott College, originally known as Decatur Female Seminary, was established in July 1889, the founders set forth plans to create an institution that would educate women in an environment that promoted both academic and moral excellence. Today, the current stewards of the college are carrying forth this mission by blending the college’s history, traditions and character with a vision that will maintain the original strong foundation for generations to come.

An aggressive capital campaign, sound business strategies and a facility program unlike any other undertaken in the college’s history are combining to carry the mission of this prestigious institution well into the future.

The Challenges and the Strategies

“We face many of the same challenges as other colleges and universities,” says Agnes Scott College’s President, Mary Brown Bullock, who is also an alumna. “We must keep our education affordable and accessible. We must also continually address how we prepare young women both academically and socially for their future. These challenges and others must be addressed within an environment that is exciting, vibrant and challenging in order to attract and retain exceptional students.” (The college has an enrollment of 900; 10 percent are international students. Approximately 90 percent of students live on campus. Goals call for increasing enrollment to 1,000.)

Bullock believes that Agnes Scott is in a better position than many peer institutions when it comes to attracting and retaining faculty -- a key ingredient for all institutions. She notes that, for recently filled positions, administrators were able to secure their first choice for each position from the candidate pool. “Our location in metropolitan Atlanta,” she says, “and our salaries, benefits and teaching schedule, are equal to or above the colleges and universities that we compete with on a regular basis. We offer an attractive package, which has helped us to both attract and retain excellent faculty and staff.”

The college’s business strategies include offering a high quality of residential life and pricing under that of many peer institutions. While the cost for tuition, room and board is high, approximately $26,000 per year, Bullock states that they are able to be generous with scholarships because of the school’s strong endowment.

In the past year, an aggressive marketing and communications program has been developed and implemented, another key business strategy. Advertorials on topics such as science education in The New York Times have positioned the college with a large portion of its target market. The annual report, alumnae magazine, Website and other communications materials have all been or are being redone to present a sophisticated and attractive marketing package to prospective students and their families.

Bold Aspirations

While all business strategies are important, a cornerstone of recent efforts was the introduction last year of “Bold Aspirations: The Campaign for Agnes Scott College,” a $60-million, comprehensive campaign that is the most ambitious in the school’s history. So far, results are encouraging, according to Bullock. “In the first year of the campaign, which will run for slightly more than three years, we’ve raised $46.5 million or 77.4 percent of our goal. Equally encouraging is the fact that 60 percent of our alumnae have participated to date. Our goal for alumnae participation was 75 percent throughout the course of the campaign, so we’re obviously pleased with the response. Rekindling ties with the college is an important part of this effort.”

The campaign was launched in February 2001, and coincided with the college’s Founder’s Day Weekend activities, which also included the dedication of two facilities included in the current building program. Regional meetings later in the year were designed to take the “campaign show on the road” to those alumnae who cannot easily get back to the campus. Meetings have been held in major cities throughout the United States with more planned in medium-sized communities beginning this fall. “We began our meetings a few days after September 11. Rather than campaign meetings they became community gatherings and times of sharing, which we all needed,” says Bullock.

Funds raised as part of the campaign will be allocated as follows:

- $22.5 million toward the current building program

- $16.5 million for student-focused activities, including presidential scholars, career planning, athletics, recreation and religious life;

- $13 million for academic initiatives in environmental science, technology, ethics, writing and the arts, and faculty support; and

- $8 million for the annual fund.

Facilities Are Key

Current and future facility requirements are also playing a key role in positioning Agnes Scott within the marketplace. In 1997, the college completed a master plan, done by the Miami office of Wallace Roberts Todd, that provided the foundation for an impressive $120-million Phase I building program that has dramatically transformed the 100-acre campus. Approximately 20 percent of the funds supporting the building campaign will come from the comprehensive campaign; another 20 percent from the endowment and the remaining 60 percent from a bond issue.

“Our goal when we accepted the master plan was to move the building program forward as aggressively as possible,” says William E. Gailey, the college’s vice president for Business and Finance. “We wanted to complete projects as quickly as possible rather than doing them in pieces, which was challenging in some cases, given their locations on campus and their proximities to other structures. When we are done in 2004, we will have altered more than 60 percent of the campus footprint.”

Phase I of the master plan has involved a number of new projects or facilities that have been renovated or expanded (see sidebar for major Phase I building projects). Multiple architecture firms have been involved in the projects, which has provided business opportunities for different firms, many of which are women-owned or who have women in key leadership roles. The architectural character of many of the projects is in keeping with the historic nature of the existing campus through both materials and forms. On the southern end of the campus, materials and forms become different but still reference other campus building elements.

Gailey says that college administrators worked extensively with individuals and associations that would be impacted by the building program. “Several projects had the potential to greatly impact our residential neighbors or other groups. The parking deck, for example, was designed to look like a neighborhood house because of its proximity to an adjacent residential area. We listened to our neighbors and partnered with them to ensure that our projects and their designs were respectful of their properties.” In renovating three Victorian homes, college officials and design team members worked with local preservation groups to make certain that the homes were restored appropriately.

In addition to the facilities involved in Phase I, administrators have addressed the campus’ overall infrastructure and its aesthetics. “We have done extensive work on the landscape and hardscape throughout the campus. Throughout all renovated areas, we have installed new sod, lighting, brick paths and irrigation, so the transformation is quite dramatic in some cases,” says Gailey. In addition to new landscape features, he says that careful attention has been given to the college’s tree canopy. A master plan for trees that identifies all trees on campus, a number of which are listed on the Georgia Landmark and Historic Tree Register, was completed. The plan includes the expected life of each tree and calls out potential major tree replacements.

A retention pond built on the south campus provides water for irrigation that speaks to the college’s environmental focus. At the same time, the pond is a natural outdoor habitat that is used to grow plants and fish. Gailey notes that administrators built a pond but that they also got a wonderful outdoor laboratory as part of the investment.

A chapel is being designed and will serve as the transition between Phase I and Phase II of the master plan. The chapel is a replacement for one that was located in the student center, which was torn down and rebuilt without a chapel. Gailey reports that officials will be revisiting the master plan this year to re-establish the priorities that were originally established before launching fully into Phase II and a subsequent Phase III of the master plan.

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