Emporia State University President Allison D. Garrett announced her resignation Friday after she was named the ninth chancellor and chief executive officer for the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education.
She is the first woman to ever hold the position, though she said she was unaware of that fact when she accepted her new role.
“I’m just really honored, really humbled that I have this opportunity,” Garrett said.
Garrett came to ESU in 2016 as the university’s 17th president, after serving as the executive vice president of Abilene Christian University. Prior to that, she held other higher level positions in education and the corporate sector. Garrett said she began working in education because she believes higher education can “change people’s lives for the better.”
“Emporia State does a phenomenal job of that,” she said. “Now to have that opportunity at the system level is just awe-inspiring and humbling, and it’s also frightening because it’s a big job.”
The opportunity to take on the role, however, came at the right time. Garrett said having accomplished “so many great things” at ESU and seeing the university poised for success, made it clear she was ready to move on.
“It’s an opportunity to have a broader impact,” she said. “For me, because I believe so strongly in the power of education to transform people’s life, that opportunity for broader impact is very exciting.”
As chancellor, Garrett will lead Oklahoma’s network of 25 state colleges and universities, 11 constituent agencies, one university center and one university center and independent colleges and universities coordinated with the state system. She will report to a constitutional board whose nine members are appointed by Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and confirmed by the Senate.
As chancellor, Garrett will lead Oklahoma’s high education system “on matters relating to standards for Oklahoma higher education, courses and programs of study, budget allocations for institutions, fees and tuition, and strategic planning. She will also be responsible for an annual higher education budget of more than $3.1 billion, as well as the state endowment fund, with a market value over $930.8 million.”
Garrett said Oklahoma’s higher education system is much larger than Kansas’ and has a different governing structure. Whereas Kansas has a singular Board of Regents that governs public universities, Oklahoma has a number of different Boards of Regents. In fact, some universities have their own boards entirely.
Additionally, Garrett will be looking to expand various aspects of educational programs within the state. Two areas were identified by Stitt during Friday’s press conference announcing Garrett’s appointment: engineering and nursing.
“Almost with any state, there are huge workforce needs right now,” she said. “[Gov. Stitt] was identifying a couple that were really important in his mind to the state of Oklahoma right now. ... Emporia State is so well-known for its wonderful teachers college and there are national challenges with the teacher pipeline. I think there’s opportunity also with technology-oriented programs, and really, if you look across the business community — and this is true in Kansas and true in Oklahoma — businesses are eager to hire people who have talent and drive whether they have a two-year degree or a four-year degree.”
During her time at Emporia State, Garrett made a number of significant advancements and set several all-time records for the university. Under her leadership, ESU has maintained its highest retention rates on records, its highest percentage of four- and six-year graduation rates on record and recorded its largest graduating classes. ESU has also recorded its highest enrollment for graduate school in university history.
Garrett has led a number of successful fundraising years and has had four of the top five best years in ESU history.
ESU is currently the only public university in Kansas to make the top 100 list in social mobility on U.S. News Best Colleges rankings. Social mobility is a measure of success in graduating Pell-eligilble students. ESU graduates have a 96% job placement after graduation and graduates have maintained the lowest student debt of all public Regents institutions in Kansas for five years in a row.
During her tenure, Garrett has also continued advancement in the areas of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, technology, health care and natural resources were added to the strategic plan. A number of significant campus improvements have been made since Aug. 2016, including the addition of Prophet Aquatic Research and Outreach Center, Breidenthal University House and the Kossover Family Tennis Complex.
ESU’s Residential Life also built the new Schallenkamp Residence Hall and completely renovated Abigail Morse Residence Hall.
Garrett has also forged strong relationships with local K-12 school districts and the Flint Hills Technical College. She also has worked well with state and local legislators. Garrett said she hopes to continue that practice as she moves on.
Both Garrett and her husband Chip have been active in the community since coming to Emporia. Allison Garrett serves on the United Way of the Flint Hills Board of Directors. She is also the vice chair of the NCAA’s Board of Governors and chair of the Division II Presidents’ Council. Chip Garrett has served on the City of Emporia Planning and Zoning board and the SOS Board of Directors and fundraising campaign steering committee. He has been a familiar face for many students during Spaghetti Fridays, and many on campus will miss “his delicious cookies and cakes.”
Allison Garrett said she believes Emporia State was moving in the right direction thanks to its “amazing faculty and students.” She said the university was poised to see some enrollment growth, which was exciting.
“Our biggest challenge over the last year or two is competing with gap year concepts in a way,” she said. “I think we’re really well positioned because we’re such a great institution. The quality is phenomenal in our programs, but the price point is amazing.”
The Kansas Board of Regents will announce an interim president for Emporia State and next steps in the coming weeks.
“The Regents thank President Garrett for her service and wish her all the best in her new role,” said Kansas Board of Regents Chair Cheryl Harrison-Lee in a written release. “Emporia State’s record-setting success in improving student outcomes during her tenure is a testament to her strategic and visionary leadership.”
Garrett said Emporia is a hard community to leave and she will be leaving behind a lot of friends.
“I’ve told a lot of people, Emporia lives bigger than its 25,000 or so population,” she said. “There are just so many wonderful things going on all the time in the community.”
Her final day at the university is Oct. 15 and she will begin duties in Oklahoma Nov. 8.