By Sarah Plummer
University of Charleston-Beckley’s President Jerry Forster spoke to Beckley Rotary Club Tuesday about where the branch campus stands now and what its future may hold.
He said the success of UC-Beckley rests on attracting residential students, adult and commuter students and online students.
And one of the biggest challenges UC-Beckley faces is building campus-based student activities, including sports.
“Right now we have nine students on a campus with 400 beds. You can’t recruit a young, college-aged man or woman without being able to tell them we have a campus life they will enjoy,” he explained.
And growing enrollment will be crucial to UC’s stability, he explained.
“The financial challenge is significant. We have 520 students enrolled and we need 1,000 to break even. There are $2 in expenses for every $1 in revenue for this first semester, but we feel this emphasizes the university’s commitment to the opportunity. This may be a step back for UC initially, but we are confident it is going to be a step forward two or three years down the road,” Forster shared.
Forster also said there are programs UC-Beckley has been able to roll with this semester, like culinary arts, business management and social work, but there are many “academic pipelines” the budding school needs to reopen.
“There are other key programs we need to rebuild that are a year or two away. One of those is nursing. We need a four-year nursing program,” he said.
The university president said UC-Charleston has a scheduled 10-year review of its nursing program this month and once that review is finished, he expects the school to look toward getting nursing accreditation extended to a Beckley program.
Other programs in the health sciences will also be rebuilt slowly and surely.
Mountain State University once had 50 physicians assistant students and now none are enrolled, although 30 have enrolled for the program at the Charleston campus.
Forster would like to see 30 spots filled at both locations and noted that the school will have to continue to work with the specialized accrediting bodies.
“I’m confident we will find the right niche for Beckley. At one time MSU had 8,000 students. Do we have to be that big to be successful? No.,” he said.
Forster said he is convinced UC-Beckley can rebuild strong commuter and online enrollment and is convinced programs in health sciences will also succeed in the area.
“The question is what our scale will be. How much can we rebuild and what is the size that will allow UC to hold its own and what will that time frame be?,” he posed.
Regarding sports, UC-Beckley plans to have junior varsity men’s and women’s basketball and soccer, as well as volleyball.
Moreover, UC-Beckley plans to look into starting varsity sports teams in Beckley that are not already represented at the varsity level in Charleston, like swimming and track and field, said Forster
“We want to draw teen athletes from our area as well as outside our area. And we want international students, which is another pipeline once connected to the Beckley campus that is not connected right now,” he said.
Forster said junior varsity athletes at the Beckley campus will have the opportunity move up to the varsity level at Charleston.
“But we want a meaningful experience for the athletes at UC-Beckley, whether they move up or not. We want good competition and want them to be able to say, ‘I played at UC-Beckley.’”
Forster also pointed out that while the intent is to begin some varsity level sports teams, it is an arduous process that has to meet NCAA approval.
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