Valerie Thompson, a nontraditional nursing student at Mountain State University, worries about her future at the Beckley school.
In July, university officials learned that MSU lost its national accreditation for the bachelor's program. Thompson, of Dunbar, is a single mom with three children who is pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing at the private nonprofit university.
Angela Gilkerson, a fourth-grade teacher in Meadow Bridge, is in the same boat as Thompson. She doesn't get to see her 9-year-old daughter too often, drives on the West Virginia Turnpike three times a week and tackles long hours at work and school.
"I feel like I've sacrificed a lot to do it," she said.
Roslyn Clark Artis, executive vice president of Mountain State's Beckley campus, sent a letter to nursing students dated Aug. 9.
Gilkerson said she did not receive the letter in the mail until Aug. 25.
In the letter, Artis explained that Mountain State officials have appealed the decision of the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, which discontinued MSU's accreditation. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 19, she wrote.
The commission's decision does not affect Mountain State's master of science in nursing program, according to the letter.
Mountain State will seek an alternative accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Artis wrote. The commission, however, will not visit Beckley for an onsite review until February.
Artis wrote that it's "possible that the school could be without accreditation for several months beginning sometime in October 2010."
She wrote that Mountain State faculty and staff have closely examined students' expected graduation dates to "help navigate all students through graduation from an accredited program."
Artis did not return phone messages seeking comment left on Thursday and Friday afternoon. University spokeswoman Megan Constantino said Thursday she would pass along a message to Artis.
Thompson and Gilkerson say they are frustrated with the paltry information they've been given about the accreditation issue.
At orientation last January, school officials brushed aside any talk of problems, Gilkerson and other classmates said.
"We were told that there were no issues with accreditation," she said. "We were told that anything we heard was rumor, and to ignore it. And we did.
"We weren't told a word about it until the rumor mill started," she said.
The National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission placed Mountain State "on warning" in July 2008, according to Mountain State's website.
"We don't know the status of this program, but we're continuing to take classes and continuing to pay tuition and we don't know if we're going to be able to graduate," Thompson said.
She has been enrolled in the 21-month program since January. It's geared toward nontraditional students who have already earned a bachelor's degree. Thompson has her bachelor's in psychology.
Thompson and her classmates expect to graduate in October 2011.
"We don't know whether to transfer out," she said. "We don't know whether to stick with the program."
For the most part, the nursing students have sought out information on their own, said Thompson, Gilkerson and several other students interviewed by the Gazette-Mail.
Some students have contacted the West Virginia Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses. An administrator with the board did not return a phone call Friday afternoon. It was not immediately clear whether future Mountain State graduates in the bachelor's program are allowed to sit for their board examinations.
In her Aug. 9 letter, Artis wrote that the state nursing board -- which gives state accreditation to Mountain State -- has had no communication with the university to indicate any change in their status.
"We believe the Board recognizes that we maintain a high-quality program," Artis wrote to students. "Moreover, we are confident the Board is committed to helping us, and we plan to continue working with the Board to strengthen our program even more."
Yet according to Mountain State's website, the bachelor of science in nursing program is "undergoing a complete reconstruction. Additional information on new requirements and a new cutting-edge nursing curriculum are scheduled to be available November 2010."
Also, Gilkerson and other students obtained
In the letter -- which regarded one student's concerns about accreditation -- Rhodes noted that in October 2009, the board launched a full investigation of all nontraditional nursing programs at Mountain State. The nursing board wanted to determine whether Mountain State complied with state law and legislative rules.
"The Board's decision to launch this investigation was based on a thorough review of documentation indicating MSU has repeatedly failed to meet Board requirements for accreditation," she wrote.
Thompson said she is satisfied with the quality of the program but remains frustrated by the lingering questions.
"If not for the accreditation issue, we could focus a little better on what we were doing," she said.