CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The city of Beckley and much of Southern West Virginia stand to lose tens of millions of dollars in employment, business and economic revenue as a result of Mountain State University having its accreditation revoked last week.
"MSU is a very important part of the infrastructure of Beckley and Southern West Virginia," said Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh. "MSU employs many people in the area, and we're not talking about minimum wage -- these are faculty salaries. You're talking about a major impact on the area."
With its main campus situated in the heart of Beckley, MSU was a huge economic boon for the city. Kanawha Street in downtown Beckley is always adorned with blue and white MSU flags.
But as the serious problems at Mountain State University have mounted in recent years, Beckley's economic future -- and the economic future of the region -- has become increasingly tied to a university on the brink of permanent collapse.
"MSU is our brick and mortar institution," said Pugh. "All the colleges and universities in the area provide a piece of the education puzzle, but as far as big infrastructure for Beckley, Mountain State was it."
The Higher Learning Commission, the regional monitoring agency that accredits MSU, withdrew Mountain State's primary accreditation last week, citing the school for debilitating breakdowns in leadership, failing to create a strong learning environment, and no proper oversight of academic program quality.
MSU was first warned of major problems at the school by the HLC in 2008 and was then placed on show-cause status in June 2011 for failing to correct some of the previous leadership and program issues.
MSU's Board of Trustees say they plan to appeal the Higher Learning Commission's decision in the upcoming weeks. MSU's accreditation loss is set to kick in Aug. 27. But once MSU appeals, the accreditation temporarily extends throughout the appeals process.
A five-member independent panel, chosen by the president of the HLC, would hear Mountain State's appeal. To win the appeal, MSU must show that the HLC's ruling was "arbitrary, capricious or not supported by substantial evidence."
MSU employs between 250 to 300 people in the Beckley area alone, said Ellen Taylor, president of the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce.
"When you have 300 employees who go out and buy cars and homes and eat in the area, it has a major influence on the community," said Taylor. "If MSU goes away, all those people don't have jobs and all that money they would have spent isn't here."
Mountain State University was the 99th-largest private employer in West Virginia last year, according to WorkForce West Virginia.
Unraveling the full impact of the university's potential collapse on the community of Beckley and on Raleigh County is difficult because the school is so interwoven into various aspects of the region's infrastructure.
For example, a 2008 university report said that MSU was instrumental in founding the Tamarack Artisan Resource Center and had provided 3,000 square feet of office space to the Tamarack Foundation for free. The staff of the Resource Center said in 2008 that they would "simply not exist" without the support of MSU.