By Sarah Plummer
CHARLESTON — The University of Charleston has received approval from the Higher Learning Commission to open new locations in Beckley and Martinsburg as well as offer technology-aided distance learning and online classes. Wednesday’s announcement, made at the University of Charleston’s main campus, gives the school the green light to dramatically expand its course offerings and enroll new students.
University of Charleston President Dr. Ed Welch said the school’s academic programs will increase from 23 to 32 and Spring 2013 enrollment is expected to nearly double its existing student body.
Classes for the two new campuses, to be known as UC-Beckley and UC-Martinsburg, are expected to begin Jan. 14 and students are currently enrolling, he said.
Online classes will begin Jan. 7
Welch said he is proud of UC’s ability to expand its offerings and locations in such a short amount of time, particularly during such unusual circumstances as MSU’s planned closure.
The school has restructured for this massive growth in just over four months, working closely with Mountain State University after being named the primary teach-out partner for students left in limbo in August .
Welch added that students currently enrolled in the MSU/UC teach-out who can graduate in May now have a seamless way to transfer to UC, stay in Beckley and finish.
“This is a historic day for the University of Charleston. We are grateful that the HLC has faith in our institution to add network-based instruction and two new locations. It is vitally important for Beckley to have a four-year college, and we are pledging a long-term commitment to educate students for a life of productive work, enlightened living and community involvement,” Welch said.
Katie McClung, a former Mountain State University student, attended the announcement Wednesday.
McClung was a junior in MSU’s Culinary Arts program and then transferred into UC as a freshman because her program-specific credits could not transfer.
In the spring she will return to Beckley, proud to be a UC student, to finish her Culinary Arts degree in one or two years, she said.
“There has been a lot of stress and a lot of relief over the past year. I had a lot of bitter feelings and felt ashamed. Now the biggest burden has been released,” she shared.
Dr. Paul Hill, chancellor for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, called UC’s expansion “a momentous occasion.”
“Foremost in our minds were concerns for MSU students. Where would they be placed? Where would they fulfill their dreams of having a college education?” Hill said. “This is a great outcome for our state, not only for students today, but for future students.”
Commenting on the schools’ merger, Sen. Joe Manchin stated, “I could not be more proud of the way the people in our state came together to continue educating the students who were enrolled at Mountain State University. This institution was vitally important to our community, and I am glad to know that it will continue to be a mainstay in the lives of the residents of Beckley, Martinsburg and Charleston.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller commended UC and the state Higher Education Policy Commission for helping to move students forward during a difficult time.
The University of Charleston has signed a master agreement with Mountain State University to lease space in Beckley and Martinsburg. UC-Beckley will operate out of several academic and administrative buildings and UC-Martinsburg will be located at 214 Viking Way in Martinsburg.
The University of Charleston has hired 65 former MSU faculty and staff members in Beckley and three in Martinsburg.
Dr. Jerry Forster will serve as president and direct operations at both locations.
While Mountain State University officials made a final appeal to the accrediting body on Dec. 4, Welch said the results of this appeal will not effect UC’s presence on the MSU campus.
“Here is our path forward; they will need to make their own,” he said.
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