Mountain State University and University of Charleston officials announced earlier this month that UC will serve as the primary partner through the teach-out process and will establish a four-year private college center in Beckley after MSU closes its doors in December.

MSU will remain accredited through Dec. 31 and students who complete their degrees within that time frame will be an MSU graduate. Starting Jan. 1, 2013, UC will take over the MSU campus as University of Charleston-Beckley, allowing for a four-year college presence to continue in the area.

The boards of trustees from both institutions met Sunday afternoon, July 29, and unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). MSU Interim President Dr. Richard Sours said he and UC President Edwin Welch, who knew each other through the Appalachian College Association, had been discussing the idea of a partnership for the past few months.

The MOU is a precursor to a more formal agreement that will be developed over the next few weeks and financial details are still pending.

“The University of Charleston is very interested and excited about establishing a center for higher education in Beckley,” Welch said. “We also anticipate to establish a center for higher education in Martinsburg.”

He said he understands that students, faculty, staff and the community have gone through a difficult period, but he is ready to move forward with this “exciting endeavor.”

This week, UC representatives are in Beckley to meet with students and individually discuss the best course for their futures. UC will admit all MSU students in good standing who wish to complete their degree programs through UC.

Under terms of the MOU, UC committed to maintain undergraduate and graduate programs on the Beckley campus.

“The University of Charleston and Mountain State University have a shared vision of trying to serve southern West Virginia.”

Beckley College, now MSU, sent many students to Morris Harvey College, now UC, according to Welch.

“The names of the institutions have changed, but that history is rich that creates a path we can follow today.”

UC will continue evaluating MSU’s programs and personnel at all MSU locations during the fall semester.

“The future of Mountain State is now becoming clearer,” Welch said.

Sours said details of the teach-out must still be decided and approved by the Higher Learning Commission. It is undetermined exactly when that teach-out will be finalized.

He said they have already been working on the teach-out plan with the HLC, who gave them the go-ahead to form the relationship with UC.

“It’s a very exciting and very positive step forward for Mountain State and the University of Charleston for our students, faculty, staff and the city of Beckley. Mountain State will cease to operate on Dec. 31, but the University of Charleston-Beckley campus will pick up right there and operate in our facilities and provide quality educational opportunities in Beckley.”

Sours said he encourages all students to move forward with the enrollment process and to work with UC to shape their curriculum.

Jerry Ice, chairman of MSU Board of Trustees, said this is a win-win for both institutions.

“This gives life to an academic community here. It gives the University of Charleston a much bigger institution than they were before.”

For the 2011-2012 academic year, MSU reported just over 6,000 students enrolled and UC reported 1,400 students.

MSU Student Government Association President and sophomore business major Ryan Ratcliff said he expects the MSU enrollment to be tremendously lower this fall.

“Being a student and knowing how most students felt, I assume most students went ahead and transferred.”

He said he wished the news could have come in July before many students sought other options, but he hopes to see enrollment increase once UC has had time to establish its presence.

“This is the best news I’ve heard in months,” Ratcliff said. “As a business major, I understand the financial stability having a university creates for the area.”

He said he is very relieved that he does not have to relocate and find employment elsewhere as he continues his education.

Dr. Cheryl Hickman, a member of the MSU Board of Trustees, said she shares that excitement.

“Given the circumstances we were put in, it was the best decision that we could possibly make. We were very concerned about losing this presence. I’m sad that it will no longer be Mountain State, but I’m really excited to see what the University of Charleston can come here and build with what’s already established.”

As for the appeals process currently in progress, Ice said MSU may negotiate that appeal.

“Why go forward with an appeal when, in fact, the appeal is to restore accreditation and it is very much up in the air of winning that appeal,” Ice explained. “This, in a sense, saves the institution in a different form.”

Welch said as for MSU employees, they will be given priority in the hiring process because they are already familiar with the students. Sours added that UC will hire as many employees as enrollment will allow.

The future of athletics at the Beckley campus is uncertain, Welch said, as he is uncertain whether there could be two campuses with separate athletic teams.

“Mountain State University is a different institution than it was two years ago, the University of Charleston is a different institution from Mountain State,” Welch said. “We want to make this transition as smooth as possible.”

— E-mail: wholdren@register-herald.com

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