Leadership & Governance

Mountain State U.'s Regional Accreditation Will Be Withdrawn

July 10, 2012

Mountain State University, a small private institution in West Virginia that paid its president like an Ivy League chief, will lose its accreditation next month, barring a successful appeal.

In a rare move, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, one of the nation's six regional accreditors, announced Tuesday that the agency will withdraw Mountain State's accreditation effective August 27.

The decision stems from concerns about the quality of academic programs at the university, which was recently forced to close its undergraduate nursing program after the program lost its accreditation.

The university's Board of Trustees said it would appeal the decision.

"We are surprised because the report ignores the significant progress that has been made since the Higher Learning Commission notified the university of its concerns a year ago," reads a statement the board issued on Tuesday.

Without accreditation, the institution would lose eligibility to receive federal student aid.

Explaining its decision in a report, the Higher Learning Commission cited violations of three of its accreditation criteria, including "mission and integrity," "preparing for the future," and "student learning and effective teaching."

The violations struck at the heart of the academic enterprise of Mountain State, where the agency found that teaching and learning were compromised by a lack of faculty oversight and insufficient resources.

The university's graduation rate of 8 percent, while skewed because of its large number of part-time students, remains below that of many of the institution's peers, the commission found.

"Mountain State University has not conducted itself with the integrity expected of an accredited institution," the agency's report states.

The commission's announcement comes nearly six months after Charles H. Polk, president of the university since 1990, was fired.

Mr. Polk, who received $1.8-million in total compensation for 2009, was the sixth-highest-paid private-college president in the country that year, The Chronicle's annual compensation survey found. His compensation constituted 3.5 percent of Mountain State's total budget, a larger budget share than any other president included in The Chronicle's analysis.

The commission determined that Mountain State's Board of Trustees has been lax in its oversight of the institution, which was for years under the tight control of Mr. Polk and a small group of administrators. Several of those administrators, who remain employed, "lack credentials and previous employment experience consistent with their job titles and responsibilities," the commission found.