Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 19, 2012

Students in MSU Physician Assistant program struggling with transfer options

Bluefield State College accepting transfer credits

Beckley — While many schools, like the University of Charleston and Bluefield State College, have stepped up to say they are accepting transfer credits from students hoping to leave Mountain State University, some students are finding they are backed into a corner.

Around 90 students in Mountain State University’s Physician Assistant program are finding many, if not all, PA programs will not accept transfer credits.

Debra Campbell, director of the Physician Assistant Graduate Program, told students on Tuesday that the program is asking for a teach-out from the Higher Learning Commission, but students should seek enrollment elsewhere.

She went on to tell students in an e-mail “other PA schools are not allowed to transfer-in students. There are a couple that accept a limited number of credit hours depending on if our curriculum matches theirs, i.e Shenandoah (Valley) MIGHT accept 12 transfer credit hours and only if they decide our curriculum matches theirs and IF they accept you as a student.”

She informed the students that Wichita State, Pacific University of Oregon, Gannon University and several others have no transfer options.

Some of the MSU PA students had already explored options available in West Virginia on their own and had discovered their credits would not transfer.

Doug Shrewsbury, a second year PA student, pointed out most universities, in addition to not accepting credits, will ask students to sit out one year before starting back to school because it is too late to apply for admission for the fall.

“At this point we are kind of stuck. Not only have we lost one or two years of school, we are going to have to sit out a year before we start somewhere else,” he said.

A group of PA students at MSU started June 9, the day the Higher Learning Commission announced they would withdrawal MSU’s accreditation, to take a proactive stance to contact other schools and gather information.

Shrewsbury said Marshall University offered to accept six elective credit hours but no credits within their degree program.

West Virginia University simply told a student who inquired that no credits would transfer.

“WVU was not very empathetic at all. They may have been receiving a lot of phone calls but they did not treat us very well,” he added.

He went on to say he is hoping to finish his last 12 credit hours in one semester if a teach-out is granted. And while that is not a sure thing, it is a better option than losing more time and money, he said.

Shrewsbury added that he and other students were frustrated about not hearing from their program director after the commission’s announcement, and for a week students were left hanging.

Today he feels more confident about the possibility of a teach-out, but he remains concerned for students who have more than one semester of instruction ahead of them.

Charles McKinney, also a second year PA student, was additionally frustrated about business going on as usual on campus for PA students.

“We have eight tests in the next two weeks. How do they expect us to focus on earning these course credits that are not going to be worth anything anyway? Of course, technically they are worth something because if we are going to apply to another school and start over, we don’t want our transcripts to show low grades,” he said.

“We are looking for schools anywhere that will take us. We have students from Michigan, California, Maryland and Ethiopia. I feel bad for everybody, but especially people who have traveled so far. This is a mess,” McKinney said.

McKinney added that he believes most PA students will leave MSU with between $30,000 and $70,000 in student debt.

McKinney also expressed dissatisfaction with a lack of information and transparency from the program and school’s leadership. He said, at times, “it was like they were trying to keep us at bay.”

On Monday, Campbell sent a message to all PA students asking them not to contact other PA schools directly to inquire about admittance.

“It is not in your best interest to contact other PA schools by phone or e-mail. This should be accomplished by MSU PA faculty or MSU administration, not PA students or parents of PA students. Even though I sent a similar e-mail last week, apparently it was disregarded by some students and has now caused a problem,” read the message.

She told them the PAEA (Physician Assistant Education Association) had received complaints from other schools about students calling to ask questions.

Interim university president Dr. Richard Sours said the university was aware of the PA graduate students’ special concerns.

“They have legitimate concerns and frustrations and we are not sitting idly by. We are working to effect transfer opportunities for these students,” Sours said.

He added that he could not release specifics on the transfer opportunities because they are still in an exploratory stage, but they are expected to be finalized soon because they will become part of a teach-out plan sent by July 23  to the Higher Learning Commission for approval.

He said he understands PA program credits are more difficult to transfer because they are on a graduate level and because schools structure the degree in many different ways.

“The students are taking the initiative and trying to solve their own problem instead of waiting for us, which is commendable,” he added.

Dr. Jerry Ice, chairman of MSU’s Board of Trustees, said during the school’s meeting with West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill, Hill indicated the commission would reach out to other colleges and ask them to do everything in their power to help MSU students transfer.

Students have created a change.org petition asking the Higher Learning Commission to allow the PA Class of 2013 a teach-out. That petition can be viewed and signed online at change.org.

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