Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sister Newspapers' News

August 16, 2012

HEPC comments on status of MSU

BECKLEY — While campuses prepare to toss out life jackets to students swept up in the accreditation troubles at Mountain State University, the Higher Learning Commission is to rule in two weeks on a teach-out plan to keep them afloat.

Mountain State had its accreditation revoked on July 9, and officially, the edict by the HLC takes effect New Year’s Eve.

Since then, the University of Charleston has moved to absorb the school, but some programs remain in doubt, Dr. Paul Hill, chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, told a legislative panel Wednesday.

Hill said the primary focus of state education policy makers has been to rescue the students caught up in the disruption at the Beckley-based school.

“To have this happen to them where suddenly the institution goes away has really left many, many students in a lurch situation,” Hill told the Joint Committee on Education.

By delaying the formal imposition of its ruling, the HLC has provided some time for students to shop around elsewhere to complete degrees.

The idea is to enable students with 90 or more hours, the seniors, to complete their studies and earn a degree without transferring or taking credits elsewhere, Hill said.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 students likely would be affected, but an exact number isn’t possible, since some study online, he pointed out.

Hill said UC agreed with MSU to “play a major role in this teach out plan,” which could be executed with the existing facility at the Beckley school or others, such as UC, or some state-run schools.

“We know that several offered to take part in that plan,” Hill said.

In fact, he noted, WVU-Tech in Montgomery intends to assume the forensic science program.

“There are other arrangements I’m not at liberty to talk about since they haven’t been approved by the Higher Learning Commission,” he said.

In a question-and-answer period, Hill told Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, the HLC got a final phase of the plan last week and will make up its mind up in two weeks.

Browning said he has been besieged of late with telephone inquiries from students and parents alike.

Hill also advised the senator he has no idea about the future of the physician assistant program.

“I don’t where that will land,” he said, adding talks have been in progress with several other schools, including Concord and Bluefield State.

UC is expected to hire some of the MSU faculty, but the future of others is unknown, he told Browning.

“We do know that some of the faculty, for example, have already looked for greener pastures,” Hill said.

Concord has acquired an MSU mathematics instructor, but Hill suggested the existing faculty will be “somewhat diminished from what it is today.”

Students with less than 90 hours might be encouraged to go elsewhere to enroll in other programs, Hill said.

If the UC plan passes muster, Hill told Browning to expect a UC sign on MSU campuses in Beckley and Martinsburg.

As for lawsuits filed against the MSU administration and issues over physical properties, Hill said his agency’s sentiment is to let those matters work themselves out.

For now, the plan is to let UC and MSU go forward on their own, he said.

“We have a memorandum of understanding that the two will merge or act collectively in the future,” he said.

“But a lot of those details have not been worked out at this time.”

Jim Skidmore, chancellor of the Council for Community and Technical Education, said much of what shakes out in the MSU situation hinges on the HLC.

“Our major focus is trying to take care of the students,” he said.

Before overtures were made by UC, he said, talks were held between MSU and New River Community and Technical College about the associate degree level programs, many in the allied health arena, such as physical therapy assistant, occupational therapy and medical assistant.

A proposal called for New River to engage in a teach out in some, particularly the radiological technologist field.

In that one, Skidmore pointed out, 16 students had completed the first year and needed one more semester to get a degree and apply for a license.

Owing to its loss of accreditation, albeit that is under appeal, MSU is blocked from enrolling any new students this fall, Skidmore emphasized.

“Students that had planned on attending MSU were also left hanging at this point of what they’re going to do,” he said.

“We’re trying to pick up some of those students.”

New River is attempting to pick up the medical assistant program but there are 175 students taking courses online, spread across the country, he said.

“So it’s difficult to pin down exactly where all those students are,” Skidmore said.

“I think they only had about 20 that were located in the Beckley area.”

Uncertainty also prevails in the occupational therapy program, he said.

“Rumor is, and again, it’s only a rumor, nothing solid or solidified, is that UC may want to keep the occupational therapy assistant program,” Skidmore said.

“I’m not sure about the physical therapy assistant program at this point.”

Over the long haul, he said, MSU had planned on phasing out some associate degree level programs because New River had considered implementing some allied health programs.

“I don’t know if UC will want to phase out the associate degree program,” he said.

“If they do, New River would be interested.”

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