For MSU students, Charleston school offers a way out of limbo

MARTINSBURG – Edwin Welch, president of the University of Charleston, isn’t sure just how his school’s partnership with troubled Mountain State University will work, but he said the focus will be on how best to help students here.

[cleeng_content id="738417477" description="Read it now!" price="0.15"]“Whether we have instructors living in Martinsburg or we rely on technology to provide instruction from our classrooms in Charleston, we don’t know the answers to those questions yet,” Welch said in a phone interview this week.

Edwin Welch, the president of University of
Charleston, will be in Martinsburg Thursday to
meet with Mountain State students wondering
how best to complete their degrees.

Welch and other representatives from UC on Thursday will be in Martinsburg’s Mountain State campus. They hope to meet one on one with students wondering how best to complete their degrees following a decision by the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission to strip the school of its accreditation.

In late June, the commission found Mountain State, which began as a junior college in Beckley in the 1930s, had greatly expanded enrollment and offerings but hadn’t met set criteria in leadership, resources, planning and oversight.

Officials at Mountain State immediately vowed to appeal the accreditation decision and noted that the school would retain its accreditation throughout the appeal process. Last week, it was announced that the HLC had extended the school’s accreditation through the end of 2012.

That move will allow many students close to graduation to complete their programs of study through classes offered by the University of Charleston and emerge in December with a degree from a fully accredited Mountain State University, Welch said.

“We don’t know right now how many students are in that situation,” he said. “We’re still trying to learn where students are and what exactly they need.”

Mountain State students are invited to meet with UC officials from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the University Center building at 214 Viking Way in Martinsburg.

Also on Thursday, Mountain State students whose graduation dates are for 2013 or later can get information on transferring to the University of Charleston. They’ll also be able to find out more about financial aid.

UC officials are holding similar gatherings for Mountain State students in Beckley and are mulling scheduling events at the school’s campuses in Florida, North Carolina and Florida

“We don’t know just how it’s all going to work,” Welch said. “We’ve had these conversations with Mountain State and agreed to be their primary partner in the ‘teach-out’ that’s mandated following this accreditation decision.

“Our first step has to be identifying those students who can graduate by December. Then the question is, for the other students enrolled, are there ongoing services we can provide? We want to find ways we can provide educational services, classes and programs at the sites where they have been studying. Ideally, we’ll create a location in Martinsburg and we’ve begun that exploration in earnest.”

A “blended learning” approach is one possibility for the Martinsburg students, Welch said. “Many of Mountain State’s students have been doing that all along – where the students come in and meet in a classroom setting and then complete additional work via technology with DVDs or course materials put up on a server.”

Though UC officials are moving quickly to set up the partnership with Mountain State, no one should think that the school will in any way compromise its good academic standing, Welch said.

“We’re playing by the rules,” he said.

“Any Mountain State students who work with us will be studying and graduating under our program. We have permission from the HLC to do what we’re doing. We’re going to make sure it’s quality.”

The University of Charleston is a private, independent college with some 1,400 students from 31 states and 26 countries. It offers 24 undergraduate majors, master’s programs in business and physician assistant studies as well as a doctorate in pharmacy.

The two universities now are negotiating an agreement for UC to establish four-year private college centers in Beckley and Martinsburg by the end of the year.

“The closing of Mountain State University is sad and tragic for students, for faculty and staff, and for the Beckley and Martinsburg communities,” Welch said in a release. “UC is committed to filling the void that will be left and to maintaining a private higher education presence in southern West Virginia and in the Eastern Panhandle.”

The partnership – announced late last week – came after trustees at both institutions approved a memorandum of understanding. Under the arrangement, UC agreed to appoint board members from the Beckley community and to maintain a Beckley presence on the UC board. Officials say financial details are yet to be nailed down.

The school has offered classes in Martinsburg since 1999 and today owns the Martinsburg Mall. The school had planned to hold classes there and also continue to lease space to retailers.

Mountain State began to expand from its original Beckley campus following the arrival in 1990 of Texan Charles H. Polk as the school’s sixth president. Polk — whose compensation package was nearly $2 million per year — was ousted in January after the school’s nursing programs lost accreditation and other problems highlighted by the HLC in 2011 appeared to persist.

The HLC handles accreditation for colleges and universities for schools not only in West Virginia but Ohio, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.–[/cleeng_content]

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