Converse College will go coeducational this fall, one year earlier than anticipated due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will be the first time Converse, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, has accepted men since 1943.
Converse will also change its name to Converse University in the fall of 2021.
Founded in 1889 to provide an education for Spartanburg, S.C.’s young middle-class women, Converse temporarily accepted men during WWII after the U.S. Army took over nearby Wofford College’s campus and turned the classroom buildings into training facilities.
Converse College announced in February that the school would go coed in Fall 2021. But the Board of Trustees noted that the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has changed the plans of many students and families, including those in the Upstate. In particular, regional students may need a more affordable option and may desire to remain closer to home. Recognizing that the pandemic is anticipated to cause a 10% to 20% decline in enrollment across higher education, the college determined that early adoption of the coeducational plan will help ensure a thriving future for Converse and for its current and future students.
“The careful, proactive planning that brought Converse to the February 2020 announcement and timeline was part of ongoing efforts to ensure a thriving future for Converse as it continues to build on its history of academic excellence,” said Converse President Krista L. Newkirk. “When we made the announcement in February to add an undergraduate coeducational college in 2021 alongside our women’s college, we never anticipated the current challenges. Today, students and their families are reconsidering what their fall semesters will look like as they face financial impacts that may require them to put a pause on spending.”
Newkirk continued: “Some students may wish to remain closer to home should a second wave of the novel coronavirus hit in the fall of 2020. Without a doubt, the preparation for the fall 2020 semester will be unlike any experienced in recent history for colleges and universities across the world.”
Phyllis Perrin Harris, chair of the Converse Board of Trustees, said, “The decision to accelerate the date to admit undergraduate residential men was made to open Converse to as many qualified students as possible so that they have the opportunity to learn from our dynamic faculty and be a part of the distinctive programming that Converse has to offer. Admitting males will also provide valuable input opportunities for our transition committees as we work to ensure a smooth transition where each student is supported and placed on a path for success.”
Immediately following the co-educational announcement in February 2020, Converse formed committees and charged them with thoughtfully and deliberately addressing the transition in areas such as traditions, athletics, student life, housing and security, communications, and more. Members of these committees represent Converse students, faculty, staff, alumnae/I, Board of Trustees and community members. Their work will continue as they examine the transition areas in-depth and will be meeting over the summer and through 2021, providing reports and recommendations to the senior administrators at Converse and to the Board of Trustees.
Converse’s plan for fall 2020 is to return to campus and resume a face-to-face learning environment. But Converse administrators and the Board will constantly evaluate this situation and the projections and provide updates as they make these decisions, always placing the safety and health of the Converse community first.