UC-Beckley president: 'Quality is key' to turnaround
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As the University of Charleston prepares to take over Mountain State University's in-state campuses Jan. 1, Jerry Forster, the new president of the school's Beckley operations, knows what the biggest challenge will be.
"Job No. 1 is to reconfirm the fact that we will be there and that the quality of our academic courses will be topnotch. That is certainly one of the key challenges, and it won't happen overnight," Forster said.
"I wish we could hire every competent employee that is in Beckley right out of the gate, but we will not be able to do that. We have to first rebuild enrollment and activities. We will have to have some patience, but I am eager."
Forster said while his job as head of UC-Beckley won't be easy -- MSU, after all, became the first institution in West Virginia to have its accreditation revoked -- his ties to the area make him especially qualified for the position.
Forster, a 1983 UC graduate, served as the school's vice president for administration and finance during 1990s. He also held the roles of Kanawha County manager and assistant city manager for the city of Charleston before he took on his most recent job as chief financial officer at Sewanee University in Tennessee.
"Even in the '70s and '80s when UC was facing tough financial times and struggling to make ends meet, the quality of the faculty has been the one thing that's been consistent through the decades. That's what I remember being so fond of here as a student," he said. "The faculty is still exemplary, and we're going to make sure that Beckley students have that privilege in addition to great academic quality."
UC is leading a teach-out program to help MSU students transition and is awaiting a formal arrangement to buy the school's Beckley and Martinsburg properties at the end of December.
The strategy to rebuild MSU's operations will combine UC's traditional campus experience and MSU's success with distance learning, Forster said.
About 90 percent of UC's students are full time, with two-thirds of them living on campus, while MSU is known for "hybrid models" where students do a lot of at-home coursework and periodically meet as a class, Forster said.
"The combination of these two strategies is an excellent opportunity for UC to be the comprehensive regional university in Southern West Virginia and serve this region better than we ever have," Forster said. "Our strategy is to blend what UC and MSU have been doing right in the past two decades. Quality is key."
Another key component to UC-Beckley's success will be community partnerships, Forster said.
"I hope to connect with Beckley in similar ways that I've been fortunate enough to do in Charleston and get to know the civic and business leaders. Building those connections and instilling that confidence in the community is going to get us where we need to be," he said. "We want to make sure that when students come to UC-Beckley, they know they are getting a topnotch education and have faculty that is capable of invigorating the students."
UC-Beckley will begin working on the school's health sciences programs as soon as next week.
"That is one of the first areas we want to re-establish as topnotch," Forster said.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.