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UC in new territory after the takeover of Mountain State

The demise of a popular West Virginia-based private university has lead to the repackaging of another in recent months.

Following a drawn-out process, Mountain State University officially shuttered its doors in Beckley, Martinsburg and several locations across the country at the end of 2012.

The University of Charleston then was able to initiate programs in Beckley, Martinsburg and online.

Mountain State battled with the Higher Learning Commission, a regional body tasked with overseeing institutes of higher education, for months. In 2011 the commission placed a "show cause" order on the university, giving it a year to address administrative, financial and academic problems.

Mountain State did fire long-time President Charles Polk and began to make some changes. However, the commission determined those changes were not enough to justify continued accreditation. It announced in July 2012 the school would lose the commission's backing, essentially closing Mountain State.

While Mountain State went through an appeals process, it was required to reach out to other institutions for help with a "teach-out plan" - a guide to graduation for upperclassmen and other educational opportunities for underclassmen.

Publicly and privately, UC jumped at the chance to expand into Mountain State territory.

Shortly after Mountain State lost its accreditation, UC announced it would offer scholarships to any Mountain State student. Very soon thereafter, the two schools announced UC would be Mountain State's official partner with the teach-out plan.

But for weeks leading up to the announcement, Welch and Richard Sours, then interim president of Mountain State, quietly talked about some kind of partnership.

Sours said in August 2012 that he remembers "philosophical" conversations with Welch as far back as April

"We're in a very competitive business," Welch told the Daily Mail in August. "Higher education is changing. I don't think it will ever go back to the way it was."

For UC, those changes have meant taking on essentially all of the courses once offered at Mountain State at its former locations. The university is also pushing online offerings, a new foray into the area for UC. It hired Jerry Forster to serve as the leader of the two branch campuses as well as the online courses.  

Since officially opening in January, enrollment has ballooned to nearly 1,700 students. Although it's the largest enrollment in four decades, UC is devoting a great deal of attention to recruitment. It's hoping the convenience of the locations and the offering of junior varsity athletic programs at the Beckley site will help bolster its numbers.

Mountain State may be gone, but problems still plague its former students. Dozens of lawsuits are pending from students with mountains of debt who felt they were misled by the school about its future.

Mountain State students who have transitioned to UC still haven't received federal financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education doesn't consider Mountain State an institution, and since the students received the aid while attending Mountain State, there have been distribution issues.

Welch expected those problems to be addressed this month. Overall he thinks the takeover has gone well, and he anticipates steadily increasing enrollment figures.

 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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