Burger v. Mountain State University, Inc.

Class Action Complaint

by Sean McGinley
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A Class Action Complaint was filed against Mountain State University, Inc. in Charleston, West Virginia on July 11, 2012. Mountain State University is a private, for profit university head-quartered in Beckley, West Virginia, with campuses around West Virginia including in Charleston. On July 10, 2012, the HLC announced Mountain State University's accreditation was revoked, leaving thousands of students with worthless college course credits, now unaccredited, after many Mountain State students had incurred tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to pay the college. The Class Action Complaint against Mountain State University, filed by the Charleston law firms of DiTrapano Barrett & DiPiero, PLLC ( http://www.dbdlawfirm.com ) and the Webb Law Firm, PLLC ( http://www.rustywebb.com ), asserts claims false and deceptive practices, negligence, breach of contract, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing by the University and its Board of Trustees.

The Class Action Complaint explains that accreditation is a third-party stamp of approval that ensures universities or programs are meeting a minimum set of national standards. If a university loses its primary accreditation, any subsequent degrees conferred by the university are effectively worthless. The Higher Learning Commission (“HLC”) is the regional accrediting agency that accredits institutions of higher education in West Virginia. According to a spokesman for the HLC, losing an accreditation “is a very rare circumstance.” Mountain State University is the first higher education institution in West Virginia history to have its school-wide accreditation revoked.

In 2008, the HLC told Mountain State in its report that despite the university's strong financial position and rising student enrollment, "it is not clear how the University will continue to respond to future challenges and opportunities with no clearly defined process for updating the University's long-term plans; limited empirical evidence [transparency] guiding planning and budgeting ... no program review processes to determine and sustain academic quality and viability; and a lack of strong communication and collaboration in governance." The 79-page 2008 report went on to say "long-term planning was remarked as “not necessary” and “pie in the sky” by some employees and board members,’ and expressed concerns that there were no mechanisms in place to get feedback on how to improve the university.”

In 2010, a national agency (“NLNAC”) revoked the accreditation for Mountain State University's nursing school. That prompted the West Virginia nursing board to place Mountain State's nursing program on provisional status, for major problems in leadership and failure to keep up-to-date student records.

Throughout the accreditation problems, members of Mountain State's board of trustees said they didn't know how bad the issues in the nursing school were. They promised to take corrective action. But in June 2011, the HLC placed Mountain State University on "show cause" status, citing the school for its top-down leadership, lack of long-term planning, failure to collaborate with faculty, failure to give information to students, and the loss of specialized accreditation for the nursing program. The HLC gave Mountain State one year to make big fixes at the school or risk losing its accreditation altogether. Also, in 2011, the Chronicle of Higher Education indicated in its report that “[n]o other college in the survey [of 519 colleges] devoted such a substantial share of its resources to a president[,]” as did Mountain State University.

After a long, drawn out process of embarrassing events featuring then President Charles Polk, which included the revelation that Polk had a salary of more than $1.84 million in 2009 (according to media accounts) – higher than his counterparts at Harvard and Yale – and had used the school’s two private planes on an excessively high number of occasions, Mr. Polk was fired as President by Mountain State University's Board on January 19, 2011. Internal employees and students of MSU have indicated to media outlets that the Board obviously should have fired him sooner.

From 2008 through July 2012, Defendants reassured students and prospective students that Mountain State University was in sound shape, when in fact, such was not true. On June 28, 2012, the Board of Trustees of the Higher Learning Commission voted to withdraw Mountain State’s accreditation, effective August 27, 2012. The HLC’s action was made public on July 10, 2012. Students found out about Mountain State’s accreditation being withdrawn by hearing it on the news. The HLC explained Mountain State lost its accreditation after years of failing to correct major problems in leadership, program evaluations, and campus-wide governance. The Class Action was filed by Charleston West Virginia lawyers Sean McGinley, Lonnie Simmons and Robert Bastress, and Rusty Webb.

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Reference Info: Pleadings | State, 4th Circuit, West Virginia | United States

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Sean McGinley, DiTrapano Barrett DiPiero McGinley & Simmons, PLLC | Attorney Advertising

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