Converse College joins University Center of Greenville to combat teacher shortage

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Left to right: Dr. Jeffrey Barker (provost, Converse College), Krista Newkirk (president, Converse College), David Taylor (president and CEO of University Center of Greenville), and Lienne Medford (dean of graduate studies and distance education, Converse College). Photo by Will Crooks.

Joining the University Center of Greenville plays perfectly into Converse College’s strategy to grow without changing its mission of providing an all-women undergraduate education on its campus in Spartanburg.

During a time when all-women colleges have struggled, Converse, one of only three dozen all-women colleges in the country, has set enrollment records in each of the last seven years. Undergraduate enrollment is at a 25-year high.

The school’s graduate programs, which are co-educational, are growing, too.

Graduate classes are offered on campus, online, and in 35 public school districts across the state. In July, the school will begin offering its Master of Arts in teaching degree in early childhood education at the University Center

Bachelor degree completion programs are also something Converse wants to explore, said Converse College President Krista Newkirk.

“Greenville makes perfect sense for us,” she said. “We are looking for ways to grow our graduate program. Greenville is a large population center that’s experiencing a lot of growth, and it has educational needs that aren’t being met. We’re trying to match our programs to the need.”

The MAT in early childhood education program is a 46-hour program open to students with a bachelor’s degree in any field and provides teaching certification to work with young children from birth to third grade.

“The program is ideal for people changing careers or returning to the workforce after a break, such as raising children,” said Lienne Medford, Converse’s dean of graduate studies and distance learning. “Providing this population with a convenient, face-to-face program that helps them successfully transition into teaching has the potential to significantly impact early childhood teacher shortages in Greenville and the Upstate.”

And there is a shortage.

In a report released earlier this month, the South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement revealed there were 550 vacant teaching positions in schools statewide at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, a 16 percent increase from the previous year. Twenty-three percent of those vacancies required early childhood certification that will be provided by Converse at UCG.

“In just four years, the number of South Carolina students graduating with a bachelor’s degree eligible for teacher certification fell by 30 percent,” the CERRA report said. “Since 2012-13, the number of hires coming from a South Carolina teacher education program has dropped by 25 percent.”

Newkirk said Converse plans to expand its presence at UCG with several additional programs in the future, including a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy in fall 2019 and, perhaps, Masters of Arts in teaching degrees for other levels. All Converse’s program offerings at UCG are pending accreditor approval.

“We’re constantly looking for areas where we can meet need and desire,” she said.

Newkirk is a member of the OneSpartanburg Talent Action Team that is creating a formal framework for large employers and colleges to discuss unmet workforce and professional development needs.

“Converse will use this information to evaluate how we are delivering our curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels,” she said. “I would like to expand this conversation to the Greenville area, including ways Converse can help fill needs for professional development and continuing education for employees of Greenville-area businesses.”

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