Mountain State to appeal its loss of accreditation

CHARLESTON (AP) — Mountain State University officials said Tuesday afternoon they will appeal a regional body’s decision to withdraw the school’s general accreditation.

The Higher Learning Commission posted a public notice of its decision online earlier in the day, saying the private Beckley-based school does not meet its criteria for leadership, resources, planning and oversight.

Within hours, Mountain State Board of Trustees Chairman Jerry Ice said an appeal is in the best interests of the students, faculty and staff.

“We are also weighing all options to preserve and protect MSU,” he said. “We will provide updates on a regular basis as decisions are made.”

Interim President Richard Sours said he was disappointed and surprised by the commission’s decision.

“We do not believe the action was warranted,” he said, “particularly in the context of the far-reaching and comprehensive changes that have taken place at Mountain State University over the past 12 months.”

The June 28 decision by the commission’s Board of Trustees is effective Aug. 27. The school has until July 27 to formally appeal.

It would keep its accreditation during the appeal process, which would take 10 to 16 weeks.

Commission board members concluded that Mountain State “has not conducted itself with the integrity expected of an accredited institution with regard to ensuring that its students have accurate and timely information about the status of their academic programs and consistent quality across all academic programs,” the notice said.

The commission cited failures by administrators to correct problems with the school’s nursing program that led to its loss of accreditation from state and national nursing accrediting bodies. It also said Mountain State has had a culture that focused on high enrollment growth instead of program quality and oversight.

Mountain State is a private, nonprofit university founded in 1933 as Beckley College.

In January, Mountain State’s board fired former President Charles H. Polk after the accreditation issues arose. Sours was named interim president in March. Since then, the university has implemented a new administrative structure and worked to improve its oversight.

The commission launched a review of Mountain State after it was notified of the nursing program’s accreditation issues. It said Mountain State has not demonstrated that it has corrected leadership and other problems that prompted the accrediting body to put the school on a “show-cause” status last year.

“The University has a long history of control of the University by a small group of administrators, including and surrounding the former president, lack of shared governance, and lack of oversight by the University’s Board of Trustees of serious problems at the University,” the commission said.

Mountain State has replaced some administrators. However, most of those who were responsible for overseeing the school’s quality before and during the nursing program’s loss of accreditation are still in their positions.

Other problems cited by the commission include a failure to realistically plan to meet future challenges and inadequate financial and human resources to fulfill the university’s mission.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, meanwhile, urged current and prospective students “to examine educational opportunities available in their respective areas.”

It will hold advising fairs Thursday and Friday at the Erma Byrd Higher Education Center in Beaver, and in Martinsburg July 16-17 at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College.

The commission said students receiving state financial aid such as PROMISE Scholarships can call 1-877-987-7664 for information about continued eligibility or visit www.cfwv.com .

The commission said it has been monitoring the situation at Mountain State but lacked the legal authority to intervene.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said his top priority is the students, and he’ll work with the policy commission “to make this transition as smooth as possible.”

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