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Mountain State students: 'Hell yes I'm angry'

BECKLEY -- Mountain State University students like Ryan Webb, a 28-year-old MSU senior formerly in the Navy, are living through an accreditation nightmare they never envisioned possible.

"A veteran shouldn't have to go through this," said Webb. "It seems like everything I've tried to accomplish has fallen apart."

Webb was one of hundreds of students reeling Tuesday from the news that Mountain State University had lost its primary accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission for years of what the commission called debilitating leadership problems and a lack of oversight and planning at the school.

The HLC's accreditation decision will take effect Aug. 27, but in the meantime, the university's loss of accreditation has left MSU's students angry, panic-stricken, and mostly just confused about what this means for their degrees.

"[Administrators] are making it sound like everything's OK," said Webb. "But I have no idea what's going on."

If a university loses its primary accreditation, any subsequent degrees offered by the school will be considered illegitimate and not be recognized by other institutions. MSU officials said they plan to appeal the HLC's decision in the upcoming weeks.

Mountain State University is the first university in West Virginia to have its primary accreditation revoked, according to the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

 In the meantime, school officials must file a teach-out plan by July 23 for students like Webb whose lives are being uprooted by the university's accreditation problems. Those teach-out details are still being ironed out, and school officials will work with students individually to come up with a full array of options, said Andrew Wheeler, chairman of MSU's Faculty Senate.

"We're going to be talking to each student individually," said Wheeler. "At this point, we're unclear about exactly what this means for each student. Students will have to weigh the cost of transferring or whether they are affected by the teach-out plan. It really depends on the student and we'll be discussing that with each of them."

The Higher Education Policy Commission will be holding advising fairs for MSU students this week and next week to discuss students' transfer options and answer questions about their degrees.

The HEPC's event in Beckley will be held this Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Erma Byrd Higher Education Center at 300 University Drive in Beaver.

The Martinsburg event will be held next Monday and Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College at 400 West Stephen Street in Martinsburg.

Penny Allen, a second-year student at Mountain State studying psychology, said school officials were solely responsible for steering the school into its accreditation problems.

"Hell yes I'm angry," Allen said. "I'm furious."

"We're just numbers to [administrators]," she continued. "We're just lining their pockets. That's all we are to them."

Allen, who found out about the university's lost accreditation after seeing the news this morning, said she doesn't know what she's going to do in the near future. Like a majority of the other students at MSU, she is saddled with considerable student loans and was banking on leaving the school with an accredited degree in hand.

Students said that adding insult to injury about MSU's accreditation was the fact that they first heard the news on TV or read it in the newspaper. MSU officials held a meeting with about 100 students on campus Tuesday afternoon, informing them about the accreditation decision. The officials also said they would send out a campus-wide email later in the afternoon.

Yet even Tuesday, after MSU was informed that its accreditation had been withdrawn, Allen said MSU administrators were downplaying the severity of the situation, telling her "don't worry about it, you have until October."

Webb, who has one semester left before graduating with a degree in criminal psychology, said the lack of information from MSU about what the accreditation withdrawal means was infuriating. 

"The most information I learned today from MSU officials was that they are going to appeal this," said Webb. "I have no clue what this means for me."

Allen said that while her future at Mountain State was in flux, she did have one clear idea of what she's going to do in response to the school's accreditation being revoked: 

"I'm going to talk to a lawyer."

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.

 


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