The University of Charleston officially has been granted approval to takeover Mountain State University.
The expansion will bring the University of Charleston to Beckley and Martinsburg. UC President Ed Welch referred to the announcement made Dec. 11 as "historic" and unprecedented.
"Some things are called historic, but are not," Welch said. "I think that the term does fit today's occasion. I'm not sure I can capture the meaning fully of what we are doing …"
Welch said local officials in the Beckley region can now rest assured a private university will continue to operate in the area. Located just outside of the primary downtown area of Beckley, MSU was a physical fixture of the city.
The decision allows UC-Beckley, UC-Martinsburg and its online branch, UC-Net to begin next month. Classes at the two physical locations are to take place in former Mountain State University facilities.
"The board of trustees is delighted that the University of Charleston has taken this major step forward," said Triana Energy CEO Henry Harmon, who also is the chairman of UC's board of trustees. "We are convinced that the expansion of UC's locations and programs are being done for all the right reasons and the end result will be good for the diversity and all the communities involved. Charleston, Beckley and Martinsburg are three of the most vibrant cities in West Virginia, and UC is committed to supporting their growth and vitality."
Welch announced UC would take over MSU this summer after the private, for-profit university lost its accreditation due to numerous problems.
Welch said the decision will provide a path forward to healing the confusion and heartbreak left on students who were trying to complete an education at MSU.
Many of the MSU faculty and staff were hired to work at the new UC operations.
The newly expanded UC will offer 32 degree programs, up from 23, and officials expect to expand enrollment to about 2,000 students — an increase of about 30 percent.
Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., applauded the decision.
"The University of Charleston stepped up to the plate in a big way for these students," Rockefeller said. "And I also applaud the state Higher Education Policy Commission for being there with a game plan for MSU students during a difficult time. Moving forward, I have every confidence UC will capably serve the educational needs on their new campuses while helping the students realize their full promise and potential."
Manchin said he "could not be more proud" of the response of education officials to aid the former MSU students.
"Our first goal has always been to make sure the students get an excellent education that prepares them for good-paying jobs. I also wanted to make sure to recognize the faculty and staff who have poured their hearts into educating these students, and I am pleased that they will be able to continue in their mission."
According to a release from the university, the school will begin spring semester classes Jan. 14 for new UC students, while finishing the "teach-out" program for MSU students able to graduate by May 2013. Online classes begin Jan. 7.
This academic year marks UC's 125th year as a university.