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Published on September 24th, 2014 | by Millennium Magazine Staff



Pictured; Betsy Fleming, President of Converse College, speaks at the steering committee’s first meeting recently in Washington, D.C.

Project Launches as Converse College’s Internal Study Expands

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – President Betsy Fleming of Converse College has been named to a new steering committee of college and university presidents that will assess the future of independent colleges. The committee convened in Washington, D.C. recently to begin its work.

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) organized the 22-member panel to develop a plan that encourages independent colleges and universities to revitalize their missions and business models. The project on the Future of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges is funded by the Lumina Foundation, and coincides with Converse’s effort to deepen exploration of its own business model to best meet the needs of today’s world.

With the guidance of the steering committee, the Future of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges project will explore new approaches to higher education, alternative college business models in the context of disruptive social and educational trends impacting American higher education, and the distinctive aspects of independent liberal arts colleges that are critical to fulfilling higher education needs in the United States. The project will provide a new opportunity to lead the national conversation about what it means to offer a high-quality education in the 21st century.

During its initial meeting, the steering committee focused on the development of a research agenda for the coming year. The second meeting will be devoted to developing an action plan to help member institutions reexamine their missions and long-term strategic plans in intentional ways.

“The Steering Committee offered an array of innovative ideas as the group pondered new business models for colleges,” said CIC President Richard Ekman. “President Fleming’s cogent explanation of Converse’s approach to resetting tuition was of particular interest to everyone present, and she made a number of important proposals for lines of research the CIC staff could undertake prior to the next meeting. I am grateful to her for committing the time to serve all of higher education through her participation.”

Over the last year, Converse has received wide national recognition for examining its own business model. Following an 18-month redesign of its operating budget, the College announced it was moving away from higher education’s common high-tuition/high-discount pricing model, which often confuses families, in favor of a transparent pricing structure that better aligns “sticker price” with the actual cost to attend. The result was a 43% reduction in tuition price coupled with a healthier practice of awarding scholarships solely from endowed and annual scholarship funds. Nothing was eliminated or trimmed from Converse’s educational experience in or out of the classroom in order to accommodate the price reset. The College’s alumni and friends responded enthusiastically by supporting Converse with a 20% increase in total gifts over the previous fiscal year.

As the tuition reset went into effect this fall, Converse achieved its fourth consecutive year of new undergraduate student growth by enrolling its largest incoming class in 25 years and increasing its entire undergraduate population by more than 20%. Converse also completed renovations to its historic Pell Hall to house first-year students, and opened the new Marsha H. Gibbs Field House in response to athletics growth over the last decade.

“Our tuition reset was a tremendous step, but ensuring long-term sustainability in a world where demands on higher education are changing more rapidly than ever before requires much more,” says Fleming. “A liberal arts education is integral to advancing innovation in our world, but institutions must be nimble in the context of such change to continue to fulfill their mission. Converse is continuing our work this year by reexamining how we can best meet the needs of today’s students, how we can improve efficiencies, and how we better leverage and steward our resources. We are involving the commitment, expertise, passion and talents of the entire campus community in this process.”

Fleming’s participation in the Future of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges project is an opportunity for Converse to bring together its internal efforts with the expertise of forward-thinking presidents from across the nation for broad benefit. “We are excited to participate in this group of institutions leading the charge to examine the traditional mission and business model of independent colleges, and to foster innovation that will ensure long term success,” said Benjamin Wall, chair of the Converse Board of Trustees and co-founder of the private investment firm WJ Partners.

On the heels of the CIC steering committee’s first meeting last week, the Converse College Board of Trustees spent two days on campus for its fall meeting. “The Trustees were deeply impressed and proud of the campus-wide effort that is underway,” Wall said. “Every member of this community has been asked to participate and contribute in the creation of a plan for change. Their passion, commitment and talents are enormous, and yet this kind of change is always challenging for any community or organization.”

The Future of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges Steering Committee

Steven C. Bahls, President, Augustana College (IL)
Luis Maria R. Calingo, President, Woodbury University (CA)
Ronald L. Carter, President, Johnson C. Smith University (NC)
Roger N. Casey, President, McDaniel College (MD)
Margaret L. Drugovich, President, Hartwick College (NY)
Elizabeth A. Fleming, President, Converse College (SC)
Thomas F. Flynn, President, Alvernia UFutureniversity (PA)
Christopher B. Howard, President, Hampden-Sydney College (VA)
Todd S. Hutton, President, Utica College (NY)
Chris Kimball, President, California Lutheran University
Walter M. Kimbrough, President, Dillard University (LA)
Larry D. Large, President, Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities
Paul J. LeBlanc, President, Southern New Hampshire University
Mary B. Marcy, President, Dominican University of California
John McCardell, President and Vice Chancellor, Sewanee: The University of the South (TN)
Kevin M. Ross, President, Lynn University (FL)
Ed L. Schrader, President, Brenau University (GA)
Elizabeth J. Stroble, President, Webster University (MO)
Henry N. Tisdale, President, Claflin University (SC)
Edwin H. Welch, President, University of Charleston (WV)
John S. Wilson, President, Morehouse College (GA)
Cynthia Zane, President, Hilbert College (NY)
* * *
Converse College, a master’s university in Spartanburg, S.C. celebrating its 125 anniversary this year, offers a distinctive undergraduate education for women and innovative programs for co-ed graduate study. The College’s high-quality, personalized education provides great value and return on investment for students, activating their voice and inspiring bold vision for advancing communities and professions. For more information, visit

The Council of Independent Colleges is an association of 744 nonprofit independent colleges and universities and higher education affiliates and organizations that has worked since 1956 to support college and university leadership, advance institutional excellence, and enhance public understanding of private higher education’s contributions to society. CIC is the major national organization that focuses on providing services to leaders of independent colleges and universities as well as conferences, seminars, and other programs that help institutions to improve educational quality, administrative and financial performance, and institutional visibility. CIC also provides support to state fundraising associations that organize programs and generate contributions for private colleges and universities. The Council is headquartered at One Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. For more information, visit

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