The Oldest HBCU in America Is on the Brink of Closing

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, the oldest historically black college in the nation, may be forced to close its doors for good. The school was founded in 1837 by Richard Humprehy, a Quaker philanthropist born on a plantation in the West Indies. Despite its rich history and roots, the 180-year-old institution has faced a barrage of financial and academic challenges for decades. Today, its enrollment has dwindled to 755 students, nearly half what it was in 2010. Meanwhile, students that do attend are often buried with debt and struggle to graduate within six years.

An investigation by the Inquirer and Daily News found that the school’s troubles have become worse in recent years due to poor leadership, gross mismanagement, and lax oversight. In 2015, Cheyney University was placed on probation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Now, the same commission is expected to hold a vote on Thursday that will decide whether to revoke Cheyney University’s accreditation. If revoked, the school would lose its federal and state financial aid—money that an overwhelming majority of its students depend on—and more than likely be forced to close.

Fighting for survival, the Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education appointed Aaron A. Walton as its new president on Monday. Walton, a former State System board member and former senior vice president of Highmark Inc., had been serving as interim president since May. He is slated to serve as president through 2021.

(Image: Facebook/Cheyney UniversityPA)

Read more about Cheyney’s troubled history via The Inquirer below:

Faced with that decline, the university has admitted less qualified students in a bid for tuition dollars. It now accepts nearly nine out of 10 who apply.

Today, only 44 percent of its freshmen make it to sophomore year, the lowest rate in the state university system. And fewer than 20 percent go on to graduate within six years.

Many who drop out leave with onerous debt. And former Cheyney students have by far the highest student-loan default rate among those at the 14 state-owned universities.

Those dismal statistics come after more than a decade of unstable and at times questionable leadership, leaving the school with soaring debt as well as shrinking enrollment. But in the last several years, Cheyney’s top administrators, along with its trustees and the state system’s board of governors, have deepened the crisis through lax oversight and startling mismanagement, an Inquirer and Daily News investigation has found.

For more on the institution’s history of mismanagement, click here.