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UC's takeover of Mountain State University approved

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Higher Learning Commission on Tuesday approved the University of Charleston's full takeover of Mountain State University Tuesday, expanding the private school to Beckley and Martinsburg.

The new additions -- UC-Beckley, UC-Martinsburg and online program UC-Net -- will offer instruction beginning next month. UC made an agreement with MSU, which had its accreditation withdrawn earlier this year after a series of leadership and program oversight problems, to lease space on the Beckley and Martinsburg campuses.

UC classes will be held in the academic buildings that were once used for MSU operations beginning Jan. 14. Online sessions begin Jan. 7.

After MSU's accreditation was withdrawn in June, it was reinstated through the month of December in order to allow UC to implement a "teach-out" program for MSU students eligible to graduate in 2012.

The school will continue that teach-out program for students through May of 2013. Those students will be taught by UC professors and will graduate with a UC degree, but will continue to operate under MSU academic standards.

Students who cannot graduate by May must apply to become UC students and adhere to UC academic standards. UC's application fee will be waived for those students to smooth the transition process.

"This is a historic day for the University of Charleston. Some things are called historic but are not. I think the term fits today's occasion," UC President Ed Welch said at a press conference Tuesday.

"The confusion and heartbreak experienced by MSU students when they learned it was going to lose its accreditation at the end of this month is now replaced with a clear path forward. They can enroll at UC today," Welch said. "The community leaders of Beckley and the residents of Southern West Virginia who were fearful of losing one of their most significant building blocks can now know that there will be a private, four-year college located there, working with and serving that region."

UC will now offer more than 30 programs across campuses and expects an influx of 600 students for the spring semester, bringing the school's total enrollment to about 2,000 students.

UC has also hired 65 former MSU faculty and staff members in Beckley and three in Martinsburg. Jerry Forster, a former UC administrator and longtime education leader, will serve as area president and direct UC's operations at both locations. 

MSU operations are scheduled to officially cease to exist Dec. 31. MSU officials have appealed the decision, though, and made their final case to the HLC in Chicago last week.

The decision on MSU's appeal is still pending, an HLC representative said Tuesday.

The impending decision from the HLC on the future of MSU will not, however, change UC's plans to open the new locations, UC announced Tuesday.

Welch called the expansion of UC "unprecedented."

"Do you know of another instance in which a financially healthy higher education institution was told it was going to have to close its doors? Do you know of another instance in which two institutions worked together as partners so that one could replace the other not through a merger, but though a startup?" he said. "Now, less than four and a half months later, we are announcing nine new degree programs at three new locations including distance education."

Paul Hill, chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission, said UC's expansion was "a huge relief" in response to the MSU situation.

"As you're all aware, we had a very unusual and profound situation. Foremost in our minds was the concern for the students - what opportunities would they have in the future? Where would they be placed? Where would they be able to fulfill their dreams of achieving a college education? There were lots more question marks than answers at that point," Hill said at the press conference Tuesday. "I have to tell you, I was very relieved the day Dr. Welch called me and indicated UC would move forward with full implementation of a merger of sorts."

A full list of the 32 academic programs now offered at UC campuses can be found at www.ucwv.edu.

Online programs include bachelor degrees in accounting, business administration, organizational leadership and psychology, in addition to masters programs in strategic leadership and forensic accounting. The new UC locations will not use the same all-inclusive tuition structure as the main campus. UC will continue offering a pay-per-credit tuition structure at its new locations through the 2013-14 school year.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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