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UC posts largest enrollment since 1971

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- University of Charleston enrollment is the highest in more than 40 years following a takeover of the ill-fated Mountain State University.

But it's less than UC officials expected.

On Thursday they announced a spring enrollment of 1,669 full-time students and a total head count of 1,884 students.

Enrollment had hovered around 1,400 students recently, but opening locations in the former Mountain State cites of Beckley and Martinsburg, as well as expanding online, led to the spike.

"We are extremely pleased with the growth in enrollment brought on by our recent expansion," UC President Ed Welch said in a news release. "Our focus now is to build on this base to serve additional students at each of our locations."

There are 1,367 students attending class on the Charleston campus. The remaining 517 are split between Beckley, Martinsburg and online. Some of those students are part-time, meaning they are enrolled in less than 12 hours of class, Welch said.

The enrollment surpasses the 1,567-student total from 1972 as the second largest in school history, according to the release. The largest enrollment was 1,828 students in 1971.

When UC announced it had received the go-ahead to take over Mountain State, it projected its enrollment would jump to nearly 2,000 students. The discrepancy comes because more students than anticipated completed Mountain State degrees before the school lost its accreditation.

"The main factor in it being lower is Mountain State awarded more degrees in December than they had forecast or they thought they would," Welch said Thursday by phone. "When they graduated people in December, then it was not necessary for them to take part in the teach-out."

Following a lengthy battle with the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accrediting body for institutions of higher education, Mountain State learned in July it would lose its accreditation. The commission had placed the school on a form of probation for a year leading up to the decision, noting academic, financial and leadership issues.

Mountain State announced it would appeal the decision but also entered into an agreement with UC for a "teach-out plan." Under the plan, UC would partner with Mountain State to help educate students close to earning their degrees, while Mountain State helped those not close to graduating pursue other options.

Mountain State lost its appeal following a hearing in late 2012, and officially lost its accreditation Dec. 31. Before then, it awarded 658 degrees to 624 students in its final month of existence, according to The Associated Press.

Welch didn't want to comment on how many students Mountain State said it would graduate versus how many actually did, but he said it was considerably more. He doesn't think Mountain State misled UC.

"I think they told us what they thought was the case. They gave us numbers looking at their numbers," Welch said.

Mountain State officials said the university was not taking on any new students after the accreditation decision, but Welch said some students not enrolled in the fall may have come back to finish their degrees.

Financial aid issues could have kept the numbers down as well, Welch said.

Mountain State didn't hand out its fall financial aid very quickly, with some students waiting until December to receive their money, Welch said. Further complicating matters, the U.S. Department of Education still hasn't awarded financial aid to former Mountain State students enrolled in UC right now.

"The Department of Education would not consider our application to award financial aid in Beckley, Martinsburg and online until after Mountain State was officially closed. So we were not in a position to guarantee students financial aid," Welch said.

"We expect it any day now, because we've made the application, they've said everything was good, but we haven't gotten the final word."

That means each of the Mountain State students enrolled in UC through the teach-out plan have been charged for the first month of class without actually receiving their federal financial aid. However, Welch said they were given assistance to buy books, and they will receive a complete refund in the very unlikely circumstance that the department denies the aid.

Welch acknowledged financial worries could have kept some students from enrolling, but he had not heard many concerns.

He's still happy with the enrollment and anticipates more students will enroll in March when new online courses start. Finding more students is a high priority right now.

"All of this is a base for us to move forward. The focus for us is clearly on recruitment, recruitment, recruitment," Welch said.

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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