After seven years of service as Evangel University’s fourth president, Carol Taylor is ready to retire.
The first female president in the school’s history, Taylor plans to exit her position in August. However, if her successor isn’t found by then, she said she’d stay on until a replacement is on board.
“I don’t know if the decision to retire is ever an easy one,” she said, adding she began considering an exit a year ago. “You give a lot of thought to it.”
School officials are working with national executive search firm CarterBaldwin Executive Search, which has Christian higher education experience, to find a new president. The goal is to have the new leader on the job before the fall semester in August.
Taylor, a 1973 Evangel graduate, said announcing her retirement decision now is with the hopes it provides enough time for a summer hire.
“My thinking was the whole transition process – the amount of time needed to conduct a national search and any additional time to be available in that transition,” she said, adding she’s committed to remain in the Springfield area for at least a year after retirement. “You want a very smooth transition where someone is coming in and still has access in that transition with help from the outgoing president.”
That kind of a transition was in place for Taylor when she was hired in 2013 as the successor to nearly 40-year Evangel leader Robert Spence. She officially took over as president in May 2014 after serving for a year as president-elect.
When Taylor arrived on campus in 2013, a major challenge faced her, she said. She came on board with a particular charge of consolidating Evangel with Central Bible College and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary amid declining enrollments and a roughly $30 million combined debt load, according to Springfield Business Journal archives. Early in her tenure, Taylor enacted a 6% decrease in the school’s workforce, as well as reductions in other operational expenses, leading to budget savings of some $1.7 million.
Prior to leading Evangel, Taylor served as president at Vanguard University in California and vice provost at Biola University in California, along with teaching at universities in Nebraska, Florida and Michigan.
Her four decades of experience in higher education will be missed, said David Lindell, Evangel University Board of Trustees member. Taylor informed the board in the fall about wanting to retire – a decision he said wasn’t really a surprise.
“We understand that Dr. Taylor is in that season when you’re thinking about transition,” said Lindell, who serves as executive ministry pastor at James River Church. “She’s been an incredible gift to the university.”
Lindell declined to comment on the nomination process to find the next president, noting it’s early in the search.
“I want to honor the process,” he said. “We want to be as transparent as we can be. So when there’s information to provide, that will be top priority.”
When Taylor arrived on campus in 2013, a major challenge faced her, she said. She came on board with a particular charge of consolidating Evangel with Central Bible College and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary amid declining enrollments.
“Today, we are a single university that has absorbed what I think of as the deep DNA of all three schools, which is really to prepare and equip men and women from undergraduates through doctoral level for life of meaningful service,” she said.
The year before consolidation in 2012, Evangel’s enrollment was 2,079, Taylor said, increasing in fall 2013 to 2,664 with the addition of seminary attendees and temporary enrollment of CBC students completing their undergraduate degrees. By fall 2016, when all CBC students had transitioned out, enrollment fell to 2,120.
Enrollment has bounced back, Taylor said, pointing to 2,320 students enrolled for fall 2019 – an increase of nearly 9% from fall 2018 and over 11% during her tenure. She said enrollment growth was helped by the creation of the Center for Student Success in Zimmerman Hall, which brought together student support services, such as career counseling and tutoring programs.
“We are currently on track to sustain that next year,” she said of enrollment, adding growing it is a challenge for all universities. “We’re in a season where the demographics have every institution competing for a smaller number of students.”
During her tenure, donations and grants for the university have exceeded $35 million, she said, and 2,000 new first-time donors were added in that time.
“A lot of that has been to build a base so that when the time is right, the institution can take on a comprehensive capital campaign,” she said, noting alumni engagement has more than doubled since 2013.
“That engagement at the start of consolidation was less than 3%. Today, we’re at 6%,” she said. “A long-term goal would be to get the school to 15% and more.”
A university vision update document released in February 2019 set 10-year financial goals of increasing alumni engagement to 12%, along with its annual fund reaching $2.5 million per year and the endowment at $25 million. By fall 2027, the university seeks an enrollment goal of 3,000 students, which would represent a 29% increase from current levels.
Additional information from university officials regarding Evangel’s current debt load, repayment plans and endowment was not provided by press time.
She pointed to a second-annual alumni event coming up in March, dubbed President’s Gathering, which involves a group of select alumni and friends of the university. Last year’s event brought in $1.5 million in mostly unrestricted gifts committed to the university, she said. She’s hoping to see that giving goal double, or even triple, this year.
“That’s all part of the strategy of cultivating a pool of friends, donors with a greater capacity to help the institution,” she said.
Even as retirement nears, Taylor said a sabbatical is in the plans.
“I’m going to take a little time to breathe just a little bit before I dive into the other opportunities that may be there, perhaps more in the volunteer space than any full-time position,” she said. “I will always be a champion for Evangel. So if there are ways I can continue to do that to the benefit of the university, I will certainly give energy and effort to that.”
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