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Mountain State University

Mountain State University, previously known as the College of West Virginia and originally Beckley College, was founded in 1933. The school was chartered as a private, nonprofit junior college. Classes began in September 1933 in rented rooms in Beckley’s First United Methodist Church. In 2013, Mountain State University was taken over by the University of Charleston, which was itself succeeded on the Beckley campus by West Virginia University Institute of Technology.

G. E. Hartman, D. K. Shroyer, J. Lewis Bumgardner, Joe L. Smith Sr., and Beckley Mayor Grover C. Hedrick served as the first board of trustees of Beckley College. The first president was Bumgardner, who was succeeded by Hedrick. Shroyer became president in 1960, retiring in 1968. John W. Saunders served from 1968 until his death in 1988. George Balsama was then appointed, serving until 1989. Vice President Robert G. Lilly served as interim president until July 1990. Charles Polk was president from 1990 to 2012. Richard Sours became the interim president in 2012.

The college began to establish its present Beckley campus in the mid-1930s. Hedrick Hall was built in 1936, to house classrooms and offices. Bumgardner Hall was built in 1940, and Hartman Hall in 1964. In 1985, a grant from the Benedum Foundation provided funds for major renovations to all three buildings, which now constitute Benedum Center, the administrative complex for Mountain State University. In 1968, the student union building and Shroyer Hall were built. O’Dell Hall was built in 1972.

The college bought several existing buildings during the 1980s. The United Methodist Temple building, now the John W. Eye Conference Center, was acquired in 1989 and remodeled for use for classroom space and convocations. Many neighboring residences became part of the campus, and one now serves as the office of the president. The Erikson Alumni Center, the English Language Institute, and administrative services occupy other old houses along South Kanawha Street. In 1998, the college purchased the former Beckley Junior High School campus. The main school building, renamed Carter Hall in recognition of donations made by the Carter Family Foundation, now houses the School of Business. This purchase also included Van Meter Gymnasium and a building now used as the health services building.

The Lewin Family Bell Tower near the center of the campus is an impressive landmark. Beckley businessman Max Lewin funded this tower as a memorial to nine of his family members and others who perished in the Holocaust. Near the bell tower, the Robert C. Byrd Learning Resource Center, built in 1997, houses the library, a media center, a television production studio, an audio studio, computer laboratories, and offices. A full-time dining facility, the Cougar Den, occupies the lowest floor of this building.

Beckley College changed its name to the College of West Virginia in September 1991, after gaining approval from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools to offer baccalaureate degrees in general business, accounting, computer information systems, computer science, nursing, and health care administration. The College of West Virginia became Mountain State University in August 2001.

Mountain State University offered associate, baccalaureate, and master’s degrees in many fields, as well as special programs in adult education, independent study, online learning, and distance learning. At one time, Mountain State also had campuses in Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

In June 2012, a national accrediting body withdrew Mountain State’s accreditation because of academic, financial, and leadership problems. The university ceased operations when the accreditation expired on December 31, 2012. The University of Charleston took over Mountain State’s Beckley campus and enrolled students from the troubled institution. UC also took over Mountain State’s branch campus in Martinsburg.

The University of Charleston was soon succeeded at the Mountain State University Beckley campus by the West Virginia University Institute of Technology. WVU Tech began a two-year transition from its long-time home in Montgomery in 2015. However, the University of Charleston still operates a campus in Beckley, offering associate degrees in nursing, occupational therapy, and radiologic technology.

Written by Leona Gwinn Brown


  1. Wood, Jim. Raleigh County. Beckley: J. Wood, 1994.