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UC welcomes students at new locations

BECKLEY, W.Va. -- Angela Mims confidently reassured prospective students at UC-Beckley's open house on Tuesday that the mistakes made by Mountain State University leaders are a thing of the past.

That's because she's witnessed the changes first hand.

"I tell [the students] that this is a whole new chapter -- it's a different university," said Mims, an enrollment coordinator who worked for MSU for two years and will now serve in the position at UC-Beckley. "There's a huge difference."

In December, the Higher Learning Commission approved the University of Charleston's full takeover of MSU after the school's accreditation was withdrawn last year following a series of leadership and program oversight problems.

The University of Charleston is now expanding to Beckley and Martinsburg, with classes slated to start on Monday.

Mims said some students at Tuesday's opening event, which was held in MSU facilities now acquired by UC, were apprehensive about whether the problems had been resolved, but she said she can already see the difference in leadership under the new administration.

"From day one, I saw a huge difference in communication. Without it, there was discord - students couldn't properly obtain their education. Now, we're all on the same page," she said. "Students and their families are looking for reinforcements from the staff - that we'll actually be able to give them the information they need in a manner they can understand."

Most importantly, students are concerned "that we're giving them the truth," she said.

"We're not holding anything back now. There's no hidden agenda," she said. "The bottom line is the students."

Jerry Forster, a former UC administrator and longtime education leader, will serve as the area president for Beckley and Martinsburg operations.

Forster said despite the confusion and stress felt by students attending MSU at the time it lost accreditation, and despite the negative attention in the past year, UC students have nothing to worry about.

"UC's academic reputation is very strong, and I believe it's enough to give students the confidence that we have the resources to continue strong programs here for years to come," he said. "We have quality faculty here, some of which worked for MSU. You can't let folks who didn't hit the high marks in the past ruin the reputation of others."

UC hired more than 60 former MSU faculty and staff members in Beckley and three in Martinsburg. School officials had projected a total enrollment of 2,000 students with the addition of the new campuses.

But MSU graduated more students than anticipated in its final class, leading the carryover of students to be less than expected.

Though classes start next week, UC is expecting more students to gradually apply once it receives permission from higher education officials to award more financial aid and to accept international students, according to UC President Ed Welch.

"It's exciting to talk to students who say they're glad we're here," Welch said. "Folks in the community have come out just to say they're glad they didn't lose this resource. We're trying to make this transition as smooth as possible, and there's been a very positive response."

John Wetzel of Toledo, Ohio, recently moved to the Beckley area with family and said that MSU's past isn't going to keep him from his future at UC.

"I was going to apply at Mountain State, but then everything happened. I decided it was a good idea to apply anyway. I figured if UC took over they'd do a good job at cleaning it all up," he said. "It's a good school."

The new UC locations will not use the same all-inclusive tuition structure as its main campus, and will continue to offer a pay-per-credit tuition structure through the 2013-14 school year.

A full list of the 32 academic programs now offered at all UC campuses, including new online courses, can be found at www.ucwv.edu.

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


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