Three students are suing Mountain State University, former President Charles Polk and the Board of Trustees over the school’s revoked accreditation, saying it renders their degrees worthless.
Dale Burger and his two children, Amanda and Jeff Burger, are seeking class-action status for their case, filed late Wednesday in Kanawha County Circuit Court.
Some 3,000 students were enrolled as of April, the lawsuit says. But the plaintiffs contend that the class should cover anyone who enrolled since July 10, 2008. That’s when the school first learned it might be in trouble.
The lawsuit says Mountain State told students it was in sound shape when it knew otherwise.
A spokesman declined comment on the lawsuit Thursday.
The private Beckley-based school has campuses in West Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
The other West Virginia campus is in Martinsburg. The school also owns the Martinsburg Mall, and opened what officials described as a hybrid learning center in January.
Mountain State is appealing the Higher Learning Commission’s decision to withdraw general accreditation.
Interim President Richard Sours said he was disappointed and surprised by the commission’s decision Tuesday, given the “far-reaching and comprehensive changes” he said have been made over the past year.
The June 28 decision by the commission’s Board of Trustees is effective Aug. 27.
The school would keep its accreditation during the appeal process, which would take 10 to 16 weeks.
Commission board members concluded that Mountain State “has not conducted itself with the integrity expected of an accredited institution with regard to ensuring that its students have accurate and timely information about the status of their academic programs and consistent quality across all academic programs,” the notice said.
The commission cited failures by administrators to correct problems with the school’s nursing program that led to its loss of accreditation from state and national nursing accrediting bodies. It also said Mountain State has had a culture that focused on high enrollment growth instead of program quality and oversight.
The new lawsuit would exclude anyone who has already filed individual cases against the school. The complaint filed by Charleston attorney Rusty Webb accuses the school of negligence, breach of contract, violation of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act, and breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing.
It says students who chose the school “are saddled with considerable student loans,” and any degrees the university now confers are “effectively worthless.”
Meanwhile, the University of Charleston has announced it will offer scholarships to any current Mountain State students who want to transfer. It didn’t say how much money it would offer.
Students still will have to meet academic standards required, and not every credit will transfer.
President Ed Welch told the Charleston Daily Mail that UC is trying to help students who are “in a quasi-panic situation.”
The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission has urged current and prospective students “to examine educational opportunities available in their respective areas.”
The commission is holding advising fairs Thursday and Friday at the Erma Byrd Higher Education Center in Beaver, W.Va., and in Martinsburg on Monday and Tuesday at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College.
The commission said students receiving state financial aid such as PROMISE Scholarships can call 877-987-7664 for information about continued eligibility or visit www.cfwv.com.