Converse College President Betsy Fleming announced Tuesday that the 2015-2016 academic year will be her eleventh, and final, year serving as the College’s ninth president.
Fleming shared the news with faculty, staff and students in campus-wide meetings, with a focus on celebrating the accomplishments Converse community members have made together over the past decade and on tackling the exciting work that lies ahead in this academic year.
“This decision comes only after much reflection and with the full knowledge that with your engagement and support Converse has accomplished more than I ever imagined possible back in 2005, and certainly more than most colleges would ever dare to dream,” Fleming said to the Converse community. “On a personal level, I truly love my work at Converse and most particularly the incredible connections that I have developed with so many of you—faculty and staff, students and alumni, Trustees and donors, community partners, friends and colleagues.”
Converse’s accomplishments, evolution and growth under Fleming’s leadership have transformed the institution, building upon the College’s distinctive strengths in order to best serve undergraduate, adult and graduate students today. Advancements include:
- Launching a new brand for the College that enhances its stature as a master’s university, celebrates the creativity and outcomes of its high quality educational product, and highlights its differentiating aspects of voice, value and vision;
- Establishing such new academic programs as musical theatre, genetic counseling, healthcare administration and contemporary music/media applications;
- Building a highly competitive intercollegiate athletic program as the only women’s college competing at the NCAA Division II level, including gaining full Division II membership, admission into Conference Carolinas and growing from 5 to 11 sports programs;
- Raising more than $76 million to support all aspects of the College, including $31 million in endowment growth;
- Significantly enhancing the physical plant through construction of The Heath apartment housing and The Marsha H. Gibbs Field House; renovations of academic and residential facilities including Kuhn, Pell and Dexter Halls; construction of community-building tribute spaces including The Betty James Montgomery Rose Garden, The Barnet Commons and The Johnson Plaza; and substantial technology advances, especially in classrooms and performance venues;
- Strengthening the fiscal health of the College with reorganization of its operating structure, revamping of its business model, and reduction of its discount rate from over 60% to 26%;
- Launching bold strategic enrollment initiatives to satisfy market demand, most notably a 43% reduction in tuition price that resulted in Converse becoming a national leader for higher education transparency, affordability and value;
- And, establishing the Converse International School to support new partnerships with universities around the world, with first-year enrollment of 58 Chinese students who will arrive on campus in fall 2017.
These efforts have resulted in expanded visibility for Converse on both regional and national fronts, and over the last decade a 20% increase in net assets and 30% growth in the traditional undergraduate student population. This fall, Converse celebrated its largest undergraduate enrollment in at least 25 years.
Converse has prioritized student and faculty achievement, as evidenced by Fulbright assistantships, Goldwater Scholarship and Elie Weisel finalists, a John Jay Institute Fellow, and Presidential Management Fellows. Three Converse faculty members have been named S.C. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The College has also received consistent recognition on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll and in top national rankings such as that by Washington Monthly for advancing student research, service and social mobility.
New strategic initiatives that further advance student development and success are being implemented this year in order to maximize outcomes and support expansion.
“We still have exciting work to accomplish together through June 2016,” said Fleming. “With Converse’s sights set on continuing this momentum, I believe that Converse is well poised for success as it enters this next chapter in its history.”
Ben Wall, Chair of the Converse Board of Trustees, announced that a search committee for the College’s tenth president will be led by Spartanburg business leader and Converse Trustee Emeritus, Bill Barnet. The identification of a search firm, search committee members and a timeline will be finalized in the coming weeks.
“The selection of the president is widely considered the most important responsibility of the Board of Trustees,” said Wall. “We are fortunate to have an extensive period to conduct a comprehensive search in an organized and deliberate manner. Together with faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends, the Board looks forward this year to celebrating our accomplishments, to strengthening the bonds of our distinctive community, and to securing dynamic leadership for a successful future.”
Noting the average tenure of a college president is less than seven years, Wall thanked Fleming for dedicating eleven years to leading Converse with boldness, creativity, vision and energy. “We are deeply grateful for her exceptional efforts to advance Converse’s legacy of academic excellence, launch ambitious new strategic initiatives, and expand Converse’s national and international profile,” he said. “It has been a decade of transformation and accomplishment for the College.”