The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 11, 2012

Students are not surprised by ruling

Although the announcement about Mountain State University’s loss of accreditation was devastating for the community, many students and employees say they are not surprised.

The university held a meeting with faculty, staff and students Tuesday at Carter Hall before a press conference in the John W. Eye Conference Center.

One student, Letisa Wells, was furious when she left Carter Hall.

“They lied to us. They told us everything would be all right.”

Wells said she has $114,000 in student loans and is only eight courses away from completing her degree in criminal justice.

When she asked about her student loan debt, she was directed to speak with the financial aid office and no definitive answers were given.

Wells certainly was not the only student with questions for the university. Many students currently enrolled in the physician’s assistant program attended the meeting to try and find out what’s next for their future.

Samantha Stenis, a PA student who came from her clinical rotations to attend the press conference, said that she had not received notification of the university’s loss of accreditation via e-mail, but had received the news from media reports.

“I heard via text that there was a press conference being held,” Stenis said. “I checked my e-mail after I heard on TV and there was nothing.”

She is approximately eight months away from finishing her clinical rotations and she said the accreditation experience has been “traumatizing.”

“I just hope the HLC will think about the students who have invested anywhere from $8,000 to $80,000 in their education. Going through PA school is not easy and it’s certainly not cheap.”

Stenis said she believes MSU did an adequate job of trying to turn the university around, but she also said she believes there are many things the university has left unsaid.

Kelsey Francis and Charles McKinney, both second year PA students, said the loss of accreditation was “no surprise whatsoever.”

“We never know what’s next,” Francis said. “We’ve been misled the whole year.”

McKinney said the university has been unorganized and this decision from the Higher Learning Commission shows MSU’s lack of care for their students, as they told them to “wait it out” through the appeal process.

“If they can’t get it together in a year, why would an appeal work in two weeks?”

Francis left the meeting wondering whether or not she should even attend a previously scheduled exam at 5 p.m.

Veteran Donnie Roberts is currently enrolled in the computer science program at MSU and is concerned that he has wasted half of his GI Bill on a university that cannot provide him with an accredited degree.

“I have a wife and kids to think of. I’ve wasted two years at this school for practically nothing.”

During the press conference, interim president Dr. Richard Sours said he was “very surprised and disappointed” at the decision made by the HLC.

Both he and Board of Trustees member Jerry Ice said they believed the HLC failed to recognize the significant progress and changes that have been made since last year.

Sours announced that an intent to appeal will be filed early next week.

“We have more questions on the horizon than we have answers for,” Sours said. “Obviously, the students are just as frustrated as we are.”

Sours said he is unsure whether students will be enrolled for the fall semester and there may be adjustments made in personnel.

Even students who have already received their degree are concerned about the stigma that will come from having graduated from a university that could lose its accreditation.

A 2012 MSU graduate from Beckley, who asked to remain unidentified, said she is concerned whether graduate schools will accept her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Mountain State.

“I also worry about how future employers will look at this degree. I spent a whole lot of money and I’ll be paying that money back for a long time.”

She said she did appreciate the fact that MSU offered independent study courses and online courses to meet the needs of her schedule.

“I was glad I could go to school and have that opportunity,” she said. “I’m just concerned now for the people who cannot go to traditional classes and for international students who have traveled from all over the world to go to school here. I’m also concerned for those who have yet to graduate and may only have a few classes left. I was lucky to graduate before then, but I’m not sure what will happen next.”

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

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