Welcome to 2020! As we ring in the new year, we celebrate not only a new year but also a new decade. It gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect on what we have accomplished over the past ten years at Converse and set forth our vision for what we will accomplish in the next ten. As we reflect upon the highlights over the past ten years, one common thread that is woven throughout is that here at Converse, we are dedicated to our students and to their success. We keep a progressive approach to the programs and delivery methods we offer to our students, to stay relevant while continuing to offer an education that best enables our students “to see clearly, decide wisely, and act justly.” While it’s impossible to include everything, over the past decade we:
- Commemorated 100 years of world-class music in the Petrie School of Music (2010) and opened the first contemporary music program in the Petrie School’s history (2015)
- Opened Howard Hall, Kate Hall and Zimmerli Common – collectively known as The Heath, taking the first step in a ten-year plan to create progressively independent living environments that balance community and connectedness with the development of autonomy and independence (2011)
- Launched our first fully-online graduate degree programs in education (2012)
- Added golf (2011), IHSA equestrian (2011), softball (2015), field hockey (2017) and acrobatics and tumbling (2017) to our roster of athletic teams
- Renovated Pell and updated Dexter Halls, making them the center of the first-year student experience (2012-14), and opened Fleming Hall, completing our model of progressively independent living environments for students (2017)
- Celebrated our 125th anniversary, as we captured “Conversations” from our Converse community (2014)
- Reset tuition, reducing it by 43 percent for our students and demonstrating our commitment to the affordability and accessibility of a private educational experience (2014)
- Opened the 14,000-square-foot Gibbs Field House, providing a top-level experience for our athletes (2014)
- Dedicated newly renovated outdoor spaces, including Barnet Commons (2014), Johnson Plaza (2014), and the Rainey Amphitheater (2016)
- Launched the Creativity That Works initiative in our School of the Arts, preparing artists for productive careers by teaching them interdisciplinary skills in marketing, portfolio development and career management, and engaging them in experiential learning (2015)
- Added Rock the Tower, Converse’s annual one day of giving to fund projects and goals across campus (2016)
- Experienced the largest undergraduate class in Converse history (2017)
- Welcomed the first Converse International School cohort, in partnership with Anhui Medical University and Anhui Agricultural University (2017)
- Added a Bachelor’s degree program in healthcare administration (2015) and a Master’s-level program in healthcare management (2018)
- Released our five-year strategic plan, which aligns our mission-driven initiatives with market-driven demands, with the three pillars of a Vibrant Community, Academic Excellence, and Sustainable Future (2018)
- Celebrated consistent achievement by our Model Programs (Model Arab League and International Model NATO)
- Opened an extension instructional site at the University Center of Greenville (2018)
In 2019, we began studying a model change to add a co-educational residential program alongside our single-gender focus. We engaged in town hall discussions with our alumnae, students, faculty and staff. Our Board of Trustees appointed an Ad Hoc Committee to study options to expand our enrollment and to evaluate in-depth research about the model change. A group of Converse administrators, Ad Hoc Committee representatives, and students visited Mary Baldwin University and Randolph College in September, gathering informative, first-hand knowledge which was presented to the Board of Trustees and Ad Hoc Committee for their use as they evaluate the proposed model change. A vote will be held in February 2020. Additional highlights of 2019 include:
- Becoming a doctoral degree-granting institution and offering the EdD in Professional Leadership at both our Spartanburg and University Center of Greenville campuses, expanding professional development opportunities to educational, business, and healthcare professionals across the Upstate
- Bestowing the name Zimmerli Performance Center on the facility that houses Twichell Auditorium, and renovating the building with improvements that included enhanced accessibility, new LED lighting systems and digital audio and refined amenities for patrons
- Commemorating the 50th anniversary of Black women at Converse, a celebration which began in 2018, giving us pause to reflect on our history as we strive to create a more diverse and inclusive culture
- Opening a new undergraduate program in Child and Family Studies that quickly became one of Converse’s more popular majors
- Launching our hybrid Degree Completion Program in Business and Master in Marriage and Family Therapy at University Center of Greenville
- Marking the 10-year anniversary of our low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, the only one of its kind in South Carolina
- Providing professional development for our campus community and women across the Upstate through our annual President’s Leadership Forum, held on International Women’s Day
- Participating in safety initiatives through our Campus Safety department, including a summer visit from Chief of Police Jeff Baker (UNC Charlotte) and emergency preparedness tabletop exercises with Spartanburg Police Department
- Shutting down the central boiler for the campus and adding new hot water system heat in Mickel, Carmichael, Phifer, Kuhn, Montgomery, Blackman, Belk, Williams, Milliken, Twichell, Wilson, Pell and Dexter
- Enhancing our classroom experience with new virtual reality goggles and software in our Biology, Chemistry and Physics Department, making Converse only the sixth private college to offer this technology.
As we look ahead to 2020 and the decade before us, the future is exciting. Our Nisbet Honors Program will be celebrating 20 years in 2020. We will be adding a master’s in Professional Leadership, building off of the strength of our EdD program, as well as a degree completion program in Child and Family Studies.
We are launching a three-year, $15 million endowed scholarship initiative to deepen our commitment to college affordability. And we will be announcing a new partnership with Spartanburg District 7 to provide classroom training and college credit to select high school juniors and seniors who demonstrate an interest in education. In this next decade, Converse is poised to be nationally recognized as an excellent doctoral university, acclaimed as a center for creative thinking and learning and as a community that produces engaged citizens who effect positive change. There are also challenges facing us in the decade ahead.
Higher education is coming upon an enrollment cliff in 2026, marking the beginning of a ten- to twelve-year downward trend in the number of high school graduates, dropping by nearly 10% in South Carolina over that time and more than 15% in other states. Enrollments are dropping now in many colleges and universities and smaller, private educational institutions have been experiencing revenue shortfalls as they find themselves unable to keep up with the lower tuition costs, and/or scholarships offered by larger private, public and two-year colleges. And students are re-evaluating the value of a traditional college education, balancing the financial and time investment that higher education requires with opportunities for advancement into leadership and higher-paying roles within their chosen careers.
We are diligently and proactively addressing these challenges as we examine a model change and as we consider expanding our educational opportunities to a broader, co-educational audience. While this is a time of change, there are some things that remain constant: we will continue to innovate in our programs and provide a personalized education so that our students have the professional skills they need to be successful in their careers, and we will continue to focus on the development of women as the future leaders of tomorrow. The scholarly excellence, personal honor, confidence and skills that we develop in our students enables them to be agile, adaptable leaders and life-long learners. 2020 will be a pivotal year for Converse. It will deepen our commitment to developing a vibrant community, expanding our tradition of academic excellence, and working together to ensure a strong and sustainable future for Converse.
We do this for our students, for their success while they are on our campus, and as they go forth as empowered leaders. In this moment of reflection and anticipation, I am immensely grateful for each student, faculty and staff member, parent, alumna, and friend. Thank you for your love and support of Converse.
Best wishes for the new year,
Krista L. Newkirk, President