Washington Monthly has released its annual ranking of colleges based on “their contribution to the public good,” with Converse as the #3 Master’s University in the nation. The magazine, which hit newsstands Aug. 27, praises Converse in its lead story, noting, “Converse College, an economically diverse all-female liberal arts college in South Carolina, is our third-ranked master’s institution, by virtue of its strong commitment to service and record of graduating women who go on to earn PhDs.”
“Converse College…is our third-ranked master’s institution, by virtue of its strong commitment to service and record of graduating women who go on to earn PhDs.”
Washington Monthly takes a distinctive approach to evaluating higher education institutions. According to the magazine, “In the last twelve months, public anxiety about student debt has reached a boiling point…Rankings that push individual colleges to heedlessly raise prices help precipitate a collective crisis that threatens to undermine institutions that are vital to the nation’s future prosperity and civic life. That’s why, since 2005, the Washington Monthly has published rankings that pose a different question: What are colleges doing for the country? After all, higher education matters to more than just the people who attend. We all benefit when university researchers produce groundbreaking research in science, medicine, and technology. We’re all affected by the productivity of our knowledge workers and the integrity of our college-educated leaders.”
The rankings criteria, which align well with Converse’s strengths and strategic priorities, include:
- Research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and sending undergraduates on to attain PhDs),
- Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country), and
- Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students).
“Converse is thrilled to be recognized as a national leader for advancing research, service, and social mobility for college students,” said Converse President Betsy Fleming. “Our commitment to creativity and community is clearly producing exceptional value and benefits for our students. High-achieving young women with bold ambitions flourish in this distinctive environment that activates their impact and voice in the world. The Converse experience creates successful pathways to graduate programs, Fulbright Assistantships and truly transformative professional work.”
Converse rose to 3rd from 43rd in the nation last year, out of more than 500 schools ranked in the Master’s Universities category. Washington Monthly ranks institutions in four categories: National Universities, Liberal Arts Colleges, Baccalaureate Colleges, and Masters Universities. Only 17 colleges in S.C. are included in the 2012 rankings. In the Upstate, three are on the Liberal Arts list: Wofford College (222), Furman University (99) and Presbyterian College (110). One is on the National Universities list: Clemson University (158).
Since its founding, Converse has provided a liberal arts foundation that enables students to see clearly, decide wisely, and act justly. Integration of service-learning into academic courses is a priority, with up to 25 courses that include service-learning components being offered each year. Last year, 43% of undergraduate students participated in these courses and contributed more than 4,000 hours of service. Coupled with opportunities outside of class, service initiatives involved 72% of Converse students and exceeded 10,500 hours.
The emphasis on service begins on day one, with each new student starting her Converse experience by volunteering in the Spartanburg community with her classmates. This year during orientation, nearly 250 students volunteered at 18 community organizations. From sorting clothing at the Children’s Shelter Thrift Store to setting up for a fundraiser for Christmas in Action, they not only worked but also spent time reflecting on their experiences and discussing the role of service in effecting positive change in the world. Selected students also participate in the college’s two-year Bonner Leader Program, volunteering 750 hours over a two-year period with Spartanburg community agencies such as the Ellen Hines Smith Girls Home, Habitat for Humanity and Interim Hospice. Bonner Leaders bring their service work full-circle through weekly training and reflection activities.
The Corporation for National and Community Service, which recognizes colleges for engaging students, faculty and staff in meaningful service that achieves measurable results in the community, has included Converse on its President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the last four years.
Thanks in part to Converse’s uncommon 10:1 student/faculty ratio, students have abundant opportunities to participate in independent and collaborative research projects at Converse. Sixty percent of the Class of 2012 participated in faculty-student research or creative independent experiences; and for four of the last six years, Converse faculty and students were awarded more research funding from South Carolina Independent Colleges & Universities than any other institution in the state.
Research at the undergraduate level is a primary contributing factor to the high number of Converse students who continue on to complete PhD’s, and to Converse’s recent record of national awards for research. Four current or recent students have received Fulbright Teaching Assistantships in the last four years, and two students have received Goldwater Scholarship honorable mentions in last two years. Additionally, two faculty members have been named S.C. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching since 2007.
Stories such as that of recent graduate Coles Hoffman from Charlotte, NC, a psychology major and member of Converse’s Nisbet Honors Program, speak to the benefits of undergraduate research experience at Converse. A course on child abuse that involved volunteer work at a local children’s shelter sparked Hoffman’s interest, which led to a collaborative project with her Converse professor to determine how to better prepare teachers to recognize signs of abuse and neglect in their students. Coles is now a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona in clinical psychology.
“Converse emphasizes close mentoring relationships between students and faculty, coming alive in demanding programs such as mentored undergraduate research and our Model League of Arab States debate team,” said Jeff Barker, Vice President for Academic Affairs. “Students are exposed to the skills and advantages of advanced study, creating a core of scholarly excellence that inspires them to seek advanced degrees. Often working across traditional disciplines, they create pathways such as Biology and Art, or Modern Standard Arabic and Politics, that lead to graduate degrees and fulfilling careers.”
Converse has given priority focus to making college accessible to all capable young women. First-generation college students comprise approximately 25% of its undergraduate population, and nearly 40% of students receive Pell Grants.
“Programs that support the needs of not only first-generation students, but also their families, are an important part of their college success,” said Dr. Molly Duesterhaus, Dean of Students. “Our Trailblazer Program helps them achieve their fullest potential. First-generation students and their parents come to campus early for a customized orientation program. Workshops throughout the year familiarize these students with college jargon, traditions and expectations; and provide a support network of college resources and peer mentors to answer questions and offer guidance in meeting their goals. Creating a sense of community among the students and connecting them with other first-generation peers as role models is invaluable. It is this kind of experience that enables young women like Erica Lane, who will graduate this year, to enter college as a first-generation student and become president of the Student Government Association her senior year.”
Three Converse Students Effecting Positive Change in the World
Erica Lane ’13
Myrtle Beach, SC
- Student Government Association President 2012-2013
- Deans List every semester at Converse
- Community Advisor
- Yearbook Editor
- Study Abroad to India
- Major: Music, Minor: Religion
“Individual voices are powerful and taken seriously at Converse, enabling students of all backgrounds to dream big and achieve great things. This spirit is uniquely Converse. Once students achieve their goals, they immediately create new and higher ones. This view translates into their lives.”
Ashley Page ’13
- Founder of “BIG” (Believe in Greatness), a team of college students who mentor middle- and high-school students with the message that college is possible regardless of your background
- Freshman Class President
- Student Elections Chair
- 2012 Excellence in Community Service Award
- Major: History, Minor: Religion
“Converse is one of the few institutions that places a focus on not only helping you grow as an individual but helping you blossom into a successful and proud young woman. Converse cares about each student and provides a supportive community to assist in each young woman’s personal development.”
Maya James ’14
- Summer research internship studying cancer and apoptosis at Furman University
- Vice President of the Association of African American Students
- Study abroad to India
- Manager for the Valkyries volleyball team
- Majors: Biology and Spanish
“Converse is giving me the skills and education I need as a foundation for life. For instance, this summer I was given a paid research opportunity to study cancer and apoptosis at Furman through my biology professor and advisor, Dr. Erturk. Converse faculty members continually give me opportunities to improve and strive for more—whether through class work, research, or while studying abroad.”