After years of financial trouble and heartbreaking enrollment decline, Cheyney University, one of the oldest Black institutions of higher education in America, is on the verge of fiscal ruin and in danger of losing its accreditation.
Cheyney’s problems have sparked rallies, protests and an outpouring of support and outrage from state senators, alumni and others.
“On the one hand, it’s tragic. On the flip side, this didn’t happen overnight,” said Johnny Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “While there were all sorts of other factors, including a bad economy in 2008 and state and federal [agencies] that failed to help, this still reflects badly on Cheyney’s board of trustees and the university’s president.”
Founded in 1837 by Richard Humphreys, a reformed slave trader, Cheyney represents more than just a place of learning, said Pennsylvania State Representative Stephen Kinsey, who recently joined students and others at a rally for the school.
“Cheyney represents the struggle of being Black in America, fighting to be recognized, speaking up to be supported, and a never-ending struggle to be treated equally,” Kinsey said.
A report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights noted that, although HBCUs only make up t3 percent of today’s colleges and universities, more than 20 percent of African-American college graduates attend an HBCU.
“For years, these historic institutions have produced amazing leaders, that not only contribute to their respective fields, but who also pride themselves on their ‘lifting while they climb’ attitudes,” said U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania.
Cheyney has faced a myriad of financial struggles as funding to the school decreased and tuition rose. Since 2010, enrollment dropped 50 percent from over 1,500 students to an estimated 746.
Since 2013, Cheyney has borrowed over $30.5 million to stay solvent and, if school officials can’t deliver a plan that satisfies the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the school could lose its accreditation this month.
This would be particularly devastating, because the school’s accreditation is tied to its access to federal grant programs, including Pell grants. read more