Oldest HBCU Cheyney University placed on probation by accreditation agency

Students shown talking on Cheyney University’s campus. The school has been placed on probation by The Middle States Commission of Higher Education. — FILE PHOTO/COURTESY OF CHEYNEY UNIVERSITY

by Chanel Hill, Philadelphia Tribune Staff Writer

An accreditation agency for higher education has placed Cheyney University on probation.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) announced the results of a review of dozens of universities and colleges at a recent meeting.

In a letter sent to Cheyney, the MSCHE stated that the “institution’s accreditation is in jeopardy” because of insufficient evidence of meeting several required standards including ethics and integrity, design and delivery of the student learning experience and planning, resources and institutional improvement.

The commission also said the university fell short in meeting requirements in financial planning and budget processes and compliance with laws, regulations and commission policies.

Cheyney, which is the oldest historically Black college or university in the nation, will remain accredited while on probation and has until March 1 to respond to the commission. The university will have to provide a “teach-out” plan to the commission that shows how students can complete their education or transfer to another institution if accreditation is withdrawn.

“The Commission may reject the teach-out plan and require resubmission if all the required information is not provided,” the letter said. “To remind the institution of its obligation to inform the Commission of its status with local, state, federal, and other relevant agencies.

“To direct a follow-up team visit following submission of the monitoring report,” the letter said. “To direct a prompt Commission liaison guidance visit to discuss the Commission’s expectations. The date of the next evaluation will be determined upon reaffirmation of accreditation.”

Michael Coard, Cheyney alumnus and founder of Heeding Cheyney’s Call, said the university “will withstand this latest storm.”

“Cheyney University has withstood much worse storms,” Coard said. “People must remember that it was founded 28 years before slavery ended.

“Cheyney’s powerful history of resilience proves it will withstand this temporary probationary setback,” he said. “I have been assured by confidential sources at Cheyney and in Harrisburg that the university is preparing a meticulously persuasive response to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.”

The MSCHE placed Cheyney on probation for the first time in 2015 over compliance issues related to its technology plan and finances.

The commission extended the university’s probation twice over the span of four years. In 2019, the university had its accreditation reaffirmed.

At the time, Cheyney President Aaron Walton told the Tribune that he was encouraged by the ruling. Walton became the president of Cheyney in 2017.

“Having the cloud of accreditation hanging over our heads has made us focus on making sure these specific issues were addressed to the satisfaction of the accreditors,” Walton said to the Tribune in 2019. “We will continue to work toward excellence and will not settle for mediocrity.”

Since 2019, Cheyney has made significant progress including an increase in student enrollment and establishing a model to retain students.

Cheyney currently has more than 700 students and saw a 15% freshman increase this past fall. During the 2018-2019 school year, the university had 469 students.

The university has formed public-private partnerships that provide education and employment opportunities to students. In 2021, Cheyney launched a Life Sciences and Technology hub for students majoring in STEM.

Cheyney is also among several education partners that have been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to receive up to $750 million in funding for the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub.

Kevin Hensil, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, said the state system is aware of MSCHE’s report and remains excited about Cheyney’s future.

“The recent action by the MSCHE means that Cheyney University remains fully accredited, though it is in probation status while it assembles the additional information requested by the accreditor,” Hensil said in a statement.

“We are aware the university is reviewing MSCHE’s action, and the university will respond appropriately to the accreditor,” he said.

“Cheyney has experienced a tremendous resurgence in recent years and is following an innovative strategy that is increasing enrollment, improving the campus experience and establishing several public-private partnerships that are creating exciting opportunities for students,” he added. “The State System remains excited about Cheyney’s future.”

The Tribune has reached out to Cheyney for comment, but received no response. The Tribune also reached out to members of the university’s Council of Trustees and they declined to comment.

chill@phillytrib.com 215-893-5716

This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Tribune

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