Cheyney University President Aaron Walton discusses the situation at the struggling historically Black school at The Philadelphia Tribune editorial board meeting last week. (Photo by: Philadelphia Tribune/Abdul R. Sulayman)

By Irv Randolph

Founded in 1837, Cheyney has historically given African Americans a chance at education. Alumni include civil rights activist Octavius V. Catto; Bayard Rustin, a chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington; and “60 Minutes” broadcast journalist Ed Bradley. (In full disclosure, Robert W. Bogle, chair of Cheyney’s council of trustees, is the president and CEO of The Philadelphia Tribune.)

In recent years, the nation’s oldest historically Black college has struggled with plummeting enrollment, financial woes and the threat of losing accreditation.

Walton has announced a credible plan intended to balance the school’s budget and lure new top-tier students. His plan should be given the chance to work.

The plan includes an ambitious fundraising campaign and sweeping changes to the school’s business model.

“We will have a balanced budget,” he said, vowing to make it happen by June 30.

The specifics of the revenue-generating plan include the following:

Epcot Crenshaw Corp., a West Chester-based company that develops technology to solve environmental problems, will establish research labs, greenhouses and an aquaponics facility where Cheyney students can get real-world experience in emerging environmental technology.

Thomas Jefferson University is committing to construction of a medical facility on the campus. A joint research project has already begun between Thomas Jefferson University and Cheyney that focuses on health disparities in the Philadelphia region. The collaboration is also designed to help Cheyney graduates enter postgraduate studies at Jefferson. Jefferson will also place a medical facility on campus to give practical experience to Cheyney students interested in health sciences.

Cheyney is not without its doubters and critics.

Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, told state senators that Cheyney was likely to lose accreditation and looked as if it would be short on cash by as much as $10 million. He said the university may have to operate as an unaccredited institution, possibly offering career training.

Without accreditation, the school would be ineligible for federal and state financial aid, which many of its students depend upon.

Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the state system, told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday that the chancellor stands by his remarks at the Senate hearing.

“We’re going to continue to work with Cheyney and support them,” Marshall said. “Obviously, President Walton has a plan, and we hope it’s successful.”

During a meeting with the Tribune’s editorial board last week, Walton said he expected the university to retain its accreditation and asserted that much of the $10 million funding hole Greenstein referenced is a cash-flow problem he expects to be resolved.

Walton said the university hopes to raise about $4 million over the next few months under a new campaign to make sure the budget is balanced.

There are clear reasons for hope that the university will be successful in meeting its financial goals.

Since June 2017, Cheyney’s new administration has made significant progress including attracting more academically prepared students, establishing a model to retain students and forming partnerships to provide students with more opportunities for internships and hands-on research experience. This fall there was a 33 percent increase over last fall in the number of applications received.

All indications show that Cheyney is moving in the right direction and has made substantial progress with its new leadership and vision. The university is too valuable to this region to fail. Through the progress it has made in such a short period of time, Cheyney is demonstrating that it has earned the right to maintain accreditation and support.

This article originally appeared in The Philadelphia Tribune.  

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