Oldest U.S. Black College on Verge of Financial Collapse

David Dekok, Reuters, December 17, 2014

The nation’s oldest black college, Cheyney University, one of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-run universities, is on the verge of a financial meltdown that threatens its ability to continue operating, a state official said on Wednesday.

Cheyney’s student body has shrunk by two-thirds, to about 1,000, since its 1983 peak, and its four-year graduation rate is just 9 percent. A quarter of students never receive a degree, and student loan defaults are high.

“Cheyney is in dire, dire, dire straits,” the state’s auditor general, Eugene DePasquale, said. The university has had a deficit for four of the last five years, growing to a cumulative $12.3 million shortfall as of June 30, 2013.

Cheyney’s fiscal problems–students who are unable to repay debt and increasing pension costs–were exacerbated by cutbacks in state higher education funding.

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Cheyney, located in the Philadelphia suburb of the same name, was founded in 1837 after Quaker philanthropist Richard Humphreys bequeathed part of his estate to build a school to educate descendents of the African race, according to the university’s website.

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The university has begun to shrink its workforce by 23 percent and to cut offices’ discretionary spending in half, DePasquale’s audit said.

School officials are planning more aggressive recruitment and will try to improve student retention and graduation rates. They hope to present a new policy to be implemented in January.

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