WEST LIBERTY - It began as West Liberty Academy in 1837, and on Friday West Liberty State College officials received word that the institution has reached its highest level - university status - granted by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.
The university status comes after a two-year process that included the fall implementation of a master's degree program in education. The program was certified by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.
"I think reaching university status is a milestone in a long and proud tradition of West Liberty," said Robin Capehart, the school's president. "We are very excited about the opportunities that will be created and our ability to move on and offer additional graduate degrees - and to also move in the area of perhaps professional opportunities. It just creates very exciting opportunities."
Throughout the school's lengthy existence, its names have included West Liberty Academy, West Liberty State Normal School and West Liberty State Teachers College. In 1943, the school was dubbed West Liberty State College - the name that will remain in place until spring.
"We have a lot of stationery to use up," Capehart joked. "What we are looking at is a date sometime in the spring so that we can plan a big celebration. When you become a university, that's the farthest you can go. In the meantime we can start looking to the types of changes that need to be made in regards to signage. It's really neat the fact that we have been around so long."
Capehart said the West Liberty State College Board of Governors will decide the effective date of the new name, which is expected to be West Liberty University. He also said the graduating class in December will be the last students to earn their diplomas from West Liberty State College. The first students to graduate from West Liberty University will do so this May.
"It's very exciting, and I know the campus community - including our alumni faculty and staff - are very excited," Capehart said.
According to information provided by WLSC, this year the college's freshman class grew more than that of any other four-year college in the state. The class also was the largest to enroll at West Liberty in 20 years.
Capehart said the master's in education program likely will be a forerunner to other graduate programs, such as business and health care sciences.