Fleming and Keith

Converse/SMC Partnership Paves Way to Four-Year Degrees

Converse and Spartanburg Methodist College are partnering to streamline the college transfer process and help students complete their four-year degree. Presidents Betsy Fleming and Colleen Perry Keith signed an agreement to create The Converse Bridge Program, which guides students in selecting appropriate coursework at SMC to transfer into degree programs at Converse. The partnership aims to increase accessibility to four-year degrees, save students time and money over the course of their college career, and positively impact the education level of our community.

“Put simply, this is all about expanding access to a college education,” said President Fleming. “Converse is working on all fronts to ensure that our distinctive, high-quality educational experience is possible for talented young women from all backgrounds. This partnership guarantees that SMC students are best prepared to transition into Converse degree programs. It also demonstrates that Converse values transfer students’ contribution to our community and that we are committed to their success.”

As the only two-year, independent, residential college in South Carolina, SMC provides a nurturing and challenging environment that focuses on preparing students to continue liberal arts studies at four-year institutions. “Each year, several of our women graduates transfer to Converse to complete their baccalaureate degrees,” said President Keith. “It has always been a smooth transfer process but this agreement further strengthens that process and brings SMC and Converse into a closer relationship that will benefit our students even more. The fact that Converse is just across town from SMC makes this a very selfish agreement for me personally: it means I can still see our students after they leave us!”

The partnership involved an extensive study of Converse and SMC courses to align the requirements in a number of majors and map the appropriate coursework for transitioning into third-year studies at Converse. This information will be available via the Converse website for SMC students who plan to continue studies at Converse, and is meant to be a helpful planning tool for both SMC students and their advisors.

Colleagues Jeff Barker and Ann Bowles, Vice Presidents for Academic Affairs at Converse and SMC, are committed to making the transition process smooth for students. “Access and affordability are essential to student success in college and the new Converse Bridge Program will help make that possible for SMC students,” said Barker. “Our goal with this bridge program is a seamless transition from SMC to Converse that removes any potential academic or administrative stumbling blocks to earning a four-year degree on time.”

Bowles underscores SMC’s aim to not only provide the first two years of a baccalaureate degree, but also start students on a direct pathway to complete that degree. “Many students who come to college aren’t sure what that pathway looks like,” she said. “Bridge programs like the SMC-Converse connection enable students to see how they can accomplish their educational goals and assure them that they will find a welcoming higher learning community at the senior institution. That is a strong incentive to earn the four-year degree.”

One Student’s Journey of Determination, Vision, and Support

Stories like that of Laura Morales, who graduated as valedictorian from SMC last spring and is now a junior at Converse, demonstrate the value of partnerships like this best. Laura’s journey from SMC to Converse was marked by determination, vision, and critical support from many people along the way. A capable young woman with a bright future, she is similar to many whose dream of a high quality college education is seemingly beyond reach. Her story underscores the many ways two institutions can partner to strengthen their collective impact in our world, and her excitement about new possibilities through The Converse Bridge Program is palpable.

“Visiting Converse during high school was very inspiring – everything seemed to be full of life and I knew this is where I wanted to spend my college years,” Morales begins. “As I started to attend Converse events and make friends with Converse students, this only fueled my dream more. However, I knew my mom – as a single parent – could not afford a Converse education for me. It has been an arduous journey but I never gave up, and ultimately my determination to go to Converse got me here.

“My mom cleans houses, and two of her clients had SMC connections. Just three weeks before classes started in fall 2011, these women took me to SMC to talk with Ron Laffitte, the Dean of Students. He understood my situation and my dream of college, and we worked out a plan for me to attend SMC. My mom’s clients, who became and are still my mentors, also helped pay some of my expenses at SMC.

“I found a host family to live with through Baptist College Ministries, so I did not have to pay room and board, and my mom worked extra hard so she could pay some of the tuition. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure and expectation from my family and people who knew my situation.

“I learned to be extremely disciplined, working hard to make sure my room was always clean and everything in my life was organized. I learned to respect people from all kinds of backgrounds and saw how other people live their lives. I learned the benevolence of people.

“My college career began with an open mind and determined attitude. I showed my professors that I was capable of thoughtful work, staying up countless nights studying. I ended up having the top grade point average in my graduating class, proving to myself that diligence, determination and a good attitude really would get me anywhere I wanted to go in life. I was an admissions ambassador and worked with alumni, I was part of the women’s tennis team and editor for the Trailblazer newspaper, I volunteered as a tutor and traveled to D.C. to speak with Congressman Trey Gowdy about poverty in Spartanburg, and I was chosen by the campus community to be the student commencement speaker. Today, I see endless possibilities for the goodness in life because of the experiences I had at SMC.

“One of my professors, Briles Lever (whose late mother, Joe Ann Lever, was a long-time dean at Converse) came to Converse several times to help arrange a plan for me to enroll here. Another SMC professor, Lori Merck, who is a Converse graduate, also visited with me to help figure out how my courses would transfer. She even offered for me to live with her if I couldn’t afford room and board at Converse, and I was amazed that she was so willing to go out of her way to make sure I could finish my education.

“Because I attended SMC, I am now more aware and ready to be part of Converse.

Being a Converse student means I can do and be anything – it means being a leader and an independent critical thinker. It’s also humbling to be part of a network of incredible women who have transformed the world that I live in. SMC opened my eyes to a bigger picture of the world and now Converse gives me the tools to tell my story and learn more about that world. For me, this is the best possible combination.

“The more we can make an education accessible to people that want it, the better our community and the world at large will become. I am thrilled beyond words about what the future will look like after this great partnership takes off. Can you imagine the hundreds of students that will make a positive impact in the community because of this partnership? I can, because SMC and Converse are fundamentally grounded in the positive contributions people can make.”