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UC to officially take over Mountain State

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston can proceed with its plans to offer new programs in Beckley and Martinsburg and online, completing the takeover of the ill-fated Mountain State University.

UC received official approval for its plan this week from the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accrediting body for institutions of higher education, according to a press release from the school.

"Some things are called historic but are not. But I think the term does fit today's occasion," said Ed Welch, UC president, Tuesday morning from Riggleman Hall on campus.

"The confusion and heartbreak experienced by Mountain State students when they learned that Mountain State was going to lose its accreditation at the end of this month is now replaced with a clear path forward for them," he said.

The approval means UC will change its name: it will now be known as UC-Charleston, UC-Beckley, UC-Martinsburg and UC-Net. The school will offer 32 different programs across those campuses and online, and many will be carryovers from Mountain State.

UC anticipates 600 more students will enroll for the upcoming spring semester, bringing total enrollment to roughly 2,000. The school already has hired 65 former Mountain State faculty members and selected Jerry Forster, a UC graduate and longtime administrator in higher education, to run the Beckley and Martinsburg operations.

The Martinsburg and Beckley centers will operate primarily out of former Mountain State buildings at those locations.

"We will be recruiting; we will be advertising," Welch said. "We will be encouraging students who had (left) Mountain State to come back."

The commission placed Mountain State on show-cause status in 2011, stating the university needed to correct a litany of academic, leadership and financial problems. In June the commission announced Mountain State had not done enough to correct those issues, revoking its accreditation.

Mountain State appealed the decision. As part of that appeal and the loss of accreditation, the school is required to provide a "teach-out" plan for its current students — graduation guidelines for upperclassmen and avenues to other opportunities in higher education for underclassmen.

UC stepped in as the main partner in the teach-out plan, announcing its intent to take over the school while it helped transition Mountain State students before their school loses its accreditation Dec. 31.

During a Dec. 4 appeal hearing in Chicago, Mountain State officials made their final appeal to keep its accreditation. The meeting lasted more than three hours, and Jerry Ice, chair of the university's board of governors, thought it went as well as could be expected.

"What we really tried to do is indicate the critical points of institutional integrity, administrative structure, the collaborative strategic planning, resource allocations," Ice said in a recent interview.

The appeal panel is a body independent from Mountain State or the commission, and the hearing was similar to a court session, Ice said.

The panel has until a week from today to respond, said Richard Sours, interim president at Mountain State. Today's announcement between UC and the commission does not have any bearing on the appeal panel's decision, he said.

He has said previously that past commission actions make it unlikely the school will keep its accreditation. On Monday he said UC would not continue to operate Mountain State's four out-of-state satellite locations. Both schools are continuing to work with students at those locations to help them graduate or find other academic options, Sours said.

Both UC and students involved in the teach-out were getting a little nervous, said Letha Zook, the university's provost and dean of faculty. There is still a fair amount of work to do to get students and staff ready for the massive number of changes set to take place at the start of the new year.

"We have what we're calling in house a two-minute-drill kind of thing," Zook said in an interview last week. "We know when we hear, we'll have to move as fast as we can . . ."

The school will simultaneously operate the new programs and continue to run the teach-out program for Mountain State students scheduled to graduate by the end of the spring.

"It's massive and exciting," Welch said.

On-site classes for the spring semester begin Jan. 14. Online classes start Jan. 7.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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