Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sister Newspapers' News

July 20, 2012

MSU holds forum for students

Beckley — A 2011 Mountain State University graduate who attended the student forum Thursday said the atmosphere in the Carter Hall auditorium “was like we were attending a funeral.”

MSU alumnus Steven Smith, of Mount Hope, attended the forum because his wife is currently in her third year of the Physician Assistant Program at MSU. He said she is seven clinical rotations away from completing the program.

Dr. Richard Sours, MSU’s interim president, answered questions from approximately 50 students who attended the forum in person and 66 who attended via Internet conference.

Smith said several students were very emotional, but Sours was very honest in trying to answer their questions.

Sours said “it would not be ethical” for the university to say everything is fine.

“Our situation is serious enough that the possibility of Mountain State closing is real,” Sours said.

During the forum, many students had questions about financial aid, teach-out plans and transfer options.

Sours reiterated that current information can be found online at www.mountainstate.edu under the “Q&A for Students on Accreditation” section.

Aside from those questions, one student asked, “Will tuition be refunded for previous courses?”

Sours answered no, because those courses were taken when the school was accredited, and MSU still remains accredited until the end of the appeal process.

Another student asked why the university’s accreditation status jumped so rapidly from good standing to Show Cause; Sours said he did not know the answer.

Sours said a teach-out plan will be submitted next week for approval by the Higher Learning Commission and after it is approved, students will be notified of their options online or possibly through another student forum.

While a teach-out plan is an option for many students who are near graduation, numerous students are finding few viable options to continue their education.

Sours agreed that it is “a tough situation,” especially for PA and social work students who are in the middle of the program.

“We’re talking to a number of schools about whether they will take our students in transfer, or essentially if they could take the entire program, including faculty,” Sours indicated.

Sours said the Board of Trustees is not in favor of this plan though. He said the board believes if academic programs are given away and the appeal process is successful, “We need to have something to attract our students and to build upon.”

Ultimately, Sours said, they must opt for the best plan for the students.

“The overriding thing is not what the board wants, not what I want, but what is in the best interest of the students. It’s painful for us to be encouraging students to transfer and making arrangements to move programs elsewhere, but if that’s what’s in the best interest of our students, that’s our motivation.”

Sours encouraged students to not be in denial and to work with counselors to help move their education forward.

MSU will not be enrolling students for the fall semester, and many students will be transferring to other institutions, which will take a huge toll on revenue for the school.

“The reality is our enrollment, and hence our revenue, is going to be way down in the fall, so we have to downsize our budget.”

Sours has appointed a budget reduction committee to look at both nonpersonnel and personnel budget issues. He also said some property and assets will be liquidated, possibly including the Martinsburg Mall location.

“It’s a painful process, but we have to do that.”

An intent to appeal was filed Monday and MSU will have two weeks from that date to submit a full appeal document. Sours said the focus of that will be the significant changes that MSU made over the past year that were overlooked by the HLC.

Sours said he has also submitted a request to extend MSU’s accreditation through the spring semester because of the significant number of students who could graduate in that time frame.

He added, “I’m not optimistic that they’ll give us that much time.”

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