Oldest HBCU Cheyney University on the Brink of Closing

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Cheyney University, the oldest HBCU in the United States, is in dire fiscal straights and their bleak condition is only expected to worsen, a state audit in Pennsylvania revealed.
Cheney, a member of Historically Black Colleges and Universities located in Eastern Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia, was said to have a future that “bleak and projected to worsen” without drastic action, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
The small, state public institution of higher learning, founded in 1837 in the city of the same name, faces mountainous challenges, mainly:

  • Sharp cuts in state aid;
  • Enrollment decreases of about 20 percent since 2010;
  • Inability of Cheyney to get graduates and former students to pay back their loans;

Also, there have long been claims from school officials and supporters that HBCU schools have not received the same percentage of state aid that other mainstream institutions receive.
Regardless of the authenticity of those numbers, these numbers do not paint a positive nor promising portrait of the university that, if not curtailed, threatens its very existence:

  • Cheyney’s student body has shrunk by two-thirds, to about 1,000, since its peak 31 years ago;
  • The school’s four-year graduation rate is hovering at an abysmal 9 percent;
  • Approximately 25 percent of the students never receive a degree;
  • student loan defaults are very high.

“Cheyney is in dire, dire, dire straits,” DePasquale said, which may be an understatement.
More specifically, Cheyney is trapped in a “a vicious, destructive cycle” in which declining enrollment and state funding leads to less money for investments that could attract prospective students. He is calling upon the Pennsylvania legislature and the State System of Higher Education to nurse the school off of its deathbed and back to health.
Cheyney is part of the 13 state-owned universities belonging to the State System of Higher Education and most of those schools face similar challenges, the report said, but not to the damning degree that besets Cheyney, DePasquale noted.
The other state-owned schools are also staring at declining state aid and enrollment, but “Cheyney has a specific exacerbated problem of not getting people to pay back their loans. We have not seen that issue on the other campuses nearly to the degree we see that at Cheyney,” DePasquale added, the paper reports.
Spokesman Kenn Marshall said Cheyney is working to address and reduce the severity of its plethora of problems.
“Declining enrollment has been a significant factor in Cheyney’s fiscal condition. The university recently announced a number of changes related to its academic offerings that are intended to better align its programs with student and employer demand. Those efforts must continue as the university seeks to regrow its enrollment,” he said.

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