Pennsylvania has one of the most disproportionate ratios of available college seats to in-state students in the country. This, many feel, is the root cause as to why a majority of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, PASSHE, schools are facing financial and enrollment troubles.
Cheyney University—one of the oldest historically black colleges in America—has been at the epicenter of this crisis. Hoping to avoid the fate of other historically black colleges in America such as Western University in Kansas and Bishop College in Texas, the university is working to find a solution to their $30.5 million debt to the PASSHE as well as their drop of enrollment by 53 percent in the past six years.
On Aug. 22, PASSHE approved a loan forgiveness plan that will waive $30 million over the course of four years if the university fulfills its requirement in cutting at least $7.5 million off of the budget. Cheyney submitted an “operating plan” on Sept. 1 to the PASSHE board allegedly proving its path forward to financial stability. The board is currently deliberating over this plan and is expected to make a decision as to whether or not Cheyney will remain as an accredited university in late November.
Cheyney’s interim president, Aaron Walton, expressed confidence in the plan saying, “I am 100 percent confident that we have been responsive [and] will be in a position to demonstrate that we are moving forward.”
The previous talks of a merger with West Chester University, one of the handful of schools that is financially successful with a high enrollment rate, have been met with backlash. NCHEMS, the Colorado based organization whose mission is, “to improve strategic decision making in post-secondary education for states, systems, institutions and work-force development organizations,” released a report last spring specifically suggesting that no university be shut down or merged.
However, rumors of this merger have been hurting Cheyney’s student recruitment, said Sharell Reddin, a junior at Cheyney.
Upon reaching out to PASSHE’s faculty union, APSCUF’s President, Kenneth Mash, said about Cheyney’s situation: “Cheyney University has a vital mission that must be preserved, not only for the sake of its current students but for all those future students that would benefit from its mission. In fact, we believe that there are students who would now be going to Cheyney if it had been capable of recruiting and attracting those students.”
It appears as though the stigma surrounding Cheyney’s dilemma is negatively affecting its enrollment, thus perpetuating an already difficult situation.
The university remains open for the time being, but the fate of the historically black college is up in the air. PASSHE has lifted their financial burden significantly and the university has taken many necessary steps to revive the school, but the possibility of a loss of accreditation and its negative consequences looms over the university.
Alex Shakhazizian is a fourth-year student majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. They can be reached at AS823512@wcupa.edu.