The spring semester is over, but changes are ramping up for Converse College.
President Betsy Fleming said the college is “shifting, evolving and adapting” to capitalize on the 24 percent growth following the college’s tuition reset in 2013, maximize student outcomes and ensure officials are good stewards of the college’s resources.
More simply put, there have been administrative and curriculum changes, with more cross-discipline emphasis, especially in the arts. The college is also building a softball team, and an international school is in the works that, at full capacity, will have 160 Chinese students, including men, who will attend and earn degrees from Converse within the next two years.
“We have to change because we are growing,” Fleming said.
An international approach
Fleming has met with students to update them on the changes coming at Converse. Offices have been moved. Students will find themselves conducting more processes, like applications, online. Parents will receive grades and bills electronically as well.
“There could be some pushback with that,” said junior Jessica Backman, who was recently elected Student Government Association president for 2015-16. “Some parents may want to get their hands on paper. It just feels more official when it’s on paper.”
But the real buzz among the student body is the Converse International School. “I think it’ll bring a lot more opportunity for students, a chance to branch out and experience other cultures,” said sophomore Breanna Waldrop, vice president of the Student Government Association.
The Converse International School will be a partnership with Anhui Agricultural University in China for accounting and medical technology programs. It will be a separate administrative unit with separate fee structures, with the Chinese students taking two years of classes at Anhui and then transferring to Converse for their third and fourth years. They will receive a degree from Converse.
Converse will learn more about the first group of students, called a cohort, in the fall. “We’re really excited about this,” Fleming said. “We just think this is huge. We’ll be the first institution in the region that will diversify the community with students from one area. It will put Converse on the global map.”
Starting in fall 2016, students will be required to have an internship for academic credit, where they can learn to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom, Fleming said. Students involved in federal work-study programs will be matched to jobs that fit their skills.
The college has added majors for health care administration — thanks in part to partnerships with Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System and Greenville Hospital System — along with contemporary music and media applications.
Many of the changes have led the college’s School of the Arts and the Petrie School of Music to encourage collaboration and help students build skills to prepare them for arts careers.
New certificate programs, or “mini minors,” will be available in music business and technology, arts and cognition and business professional development. Interdisciplinary programs in pre-chaplaincy in religion or philosophy and digital arts are in the planning process. Music history and music theory majors have been discontinued.
Faculty and administration began a institution-wide review of programs called LEAD last year — learning, enrollment, access and activation and development. Five areas were identified: operational process and improvements, which created a paperless enrollment process for 2015; more collaboration to support student success; curricular changes and new academic programs; new enrollment initiatives; and a revised administrative structure with realigned positions and responsibilities
“I think this type of internal review is useful and can foster new partnerships within our campus community,” said theater professor Chandra Hopkins, who co-chaired the leadership committee during the review. “The LEAD process brought about open discussion between faculty, staff, administration and across departments and programs that doesn’t always happen on college and university campuses. I am hopeful and excited that the recent work this past year will continue the conversations and collaboration across the college.”
About half the faculty participated in committee work related to the initiatives. “It was important to get feedback on the ground from people on the ground with students,” Fleming said. “They may have felt like they had not had a voice before.”
Some administrative positions have been revamped but will not go vacant, although the rumor mill has pegged Converse as laying off or firing professors, Fleming said. The chief academic officer’s position has been changed to provost. The new model emphasizes hands-on deans with less middle management. Some employees have been offered early retirement, Fleming said. Two positions in the School of the Arts will be phased out — one position will be eliminated in six months, the other in 18 months.
“We have changed positions, job descriptions and expectations to meet the students’ needs,” Fleming said. “We are so blessed by amazing people on this campus who want it to be successful. As we move through this transition, we are supporting those people.”
This article was written by Jenny Arnold of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
Photo credit: John Byrum