Public and private colleges in West Virginia are moving quickly to take in both individual students and entire programs at Mountain State University as that school appeals the loss of its general accreditation, state higher education officials told legislators on Monday.
Officials have also sought to assure the more than 900 Mountain State students who have qualified for state-level financial aid that this aid remains valid and can move with them to another institution, Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill said.
The Higher Learning Commission, which oversees standards for a 19-state region, announced earlier this month that it would revoke Mountain State’s accreditation as of Aug. 27 because of ongoing leadership, organizational and integrity issues. Although the private Beckley-based university would keep its accreditation while it appeals, a 10- to 16-week process that administrators there have vowed to pursue, Hill discounted its chances.
“The assumption is, quite frankly, that it will stand,” Hill told the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability. “These rulings are very hard to overturn.”
Besides leaving students with worthless degrees, the lack of accreditation means Mountain State cannot take in new students and becomes ineligible for financial aid programs. It must also put together a “teach-out” plan for current students now unable to complete their programs there, said Chancellor James Skidmore of the state’s Community and Technical College Council.
Mountain State began the last academic year with nearly 3,300 full-time undergraduate and graduate students and another 1,328 attending part time, according to school figures. Besides its Beckley campus, the university has facilities in Martinsburg as well as Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. It also offers extensive online coursework, and says it serves around 8,200 students nationwide.
The school announced Monday that it will cut half its workforce university-wide on Sept. 21. The move affects administrators, faculty and staff.
Public institutions reaching out to Mountain State students include New River Community and Technical College in Beckley, which is working to help 16 first-year radiologic technology students complete their associate degrees, Skidmore said.
“If they continue there their second year, they will not graduate from an accredited institution, which means they cannot sit for their licensure exam, which means they can’t get a job,” Skidmore told legislators.
Bluefield State College, meanwhile, will try to take the 31 students who were planning to enter that program this fall, Skidmore said.
New River is similarly looking at taking over Mountain State’s programs for medical and physical and occupational therapy assistants, Skidmore said. Complicating factors include the 175 medical assistant students attending online from various locations, and the lack of a physical therapy lab at New River — through it may end up using the lab at Mountain State, Skidmore said.
Hill said West Virginia’s public four-year schools are reaching out to Mountain State’s 175 forensic science students, most of whom are from out of state and take classes in a traditional classroom setting. Another 68 students in a social science program may end up at Concord University in Mercer County, Hill said, while both Marshall University and the private University of Charleston are looking at the ailing school’s physician assistant program.
“We’re looking at moving entire programs,” Hill said.
Hill said counselors from public colleges and such private institutions as Charleston and West Virginia Wesleyan College have been meeting with Mountain State students. Two sessions at the Beckley campus drew more than 200 students, while more than 190 attended one in Martinsburg, he said.