By Carra Higgins
The transition from Mountain State University to University of Charleston-Beckley is moving forward with the naming of Dr. Jerry Forster, a UC alumnus, as the President of UC-Beckley. UC President Dr. Ed Welch made the announcement Friday morning.
Forster will officially being his role Jan. 1 and in the mean time will be working to establish relationships with the Beckley community, recruit students and begin marketing and branding UC’s Beckley campus. He will also be overseeing UC’s role as the primary teach-out partner with MSU. Forster comes to UC-Beckley from Sewanee: The University of the South, where he served as the Tennessee school’s treasurer and chief financial officer since 2001.
Welch told those at the press conference Friday that the transition from MSU to UC-Beckley will be difficult, but thinks Forster will provide “superfluous leadership” for academics as student enrollment is rebuilt during the next few years.
Forster explained that one of the biggest challenges that UC-Beckley will face during the next few months is the accreditation transition, which is leading him to expect low enrollment numbers at first.
“Job one is the student focus, recruiting students and working with Dr. Welch, the president of the University of Charleston, to decide and decipher the best marketing methodologies, what courses do we teach on campus,” Forster commented.
UC has submitted requests to the Higher Learning Commission to continue some of the programs MSU currently offers, and to provide courses of study offered by UC’s Beckley and Martinsburg campuses. Welch said programs are contingent on approvals of the HLC and that said, he is hopeful that decisions will be made in December. Welch added that the HLC has been working hard to expedite the process.
“It’s clear to me that they want the University of Charleston-Beckley to be a highly successful site,” Welch added.
Among the programs that Welch hopes to see at the UC-Beckley campus includes the continuation of the allied health sciences and reinstating the nursing program.
“The health sciences will be a key, key component of UC-Beckley,” Welch added.
The Beckley campus will also focus on recruiting traditional and adult learners, who have an opportunity to complete online courses and be on campus for face-to-face time once a month, for example, with instructors. Within three to five years, enrollment goals for UC-Beckley is around 2,000 students, Forster said.
Before that time, though, Forster knows he will need to reach out to the community and future students “mending relationships” and “rebuilding confidence.”
“Beckley has been through a challenging time — Mountain State in particular,” Forster said. “(It is) a big challenge. (There is) a lot of work to do. It will take time.”
Welch says UC-Beckley plans to offer a lecture series, as it does in Charleston and “be a large part of the community.”
UC-Beckley will not be an “identical replication” of UC, nor will it be an “independent institution with its own decisions,” Welch said. He explained that there will be coordination between the two schools and those executing policy at UC-Beckley will be working with administrators in Charleston to ensure conformity between the locations.
Until Dec. 31, MSU will continue to serve students; however, Welch says UC-Beckley will likely open a site soon in order to help students prepare for the transition. Around 400 students could be enrolling in Spring classes through UC-Beckley. Spring enrollment for UC-Beckley will begin Nov. 5.
By the new year, area residents, students and current MSU faculty and staff will begin to see changes in signs and branding on the MSU campus, Welch said.
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Between 1992 and 2001, Forster served as UC’s vice president for administration and finance. He has also served previously as the county manager for the Kanawha County Commission and as the assistant city manager and treasurer for the city of Charleston. Forster holds a Ph.D. in higher education from Vanderbilt University.
When Forster was previously with UC, he oversaw the growth of an endowment that more than doubled as a result of investment returns. He also participated in a successful capital campaign, which funded the construction of the Clay Tower building and oversaw the completion of a new $6 million residence hall.