Are People Lying to Us About Cheyney’s Future?

While some higher education officials and state lawmakers are questioning if Cheyney University will be able to stabilize quickly enough to save its accreditation, officials at the embattled historically black college say that they expect to have a balanced budget and growth in the next five months.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on a new fundraising initiative announced recently by Cheyney President Aaron Walton, who says that in complement with outreach to corporate partners, figures to spur support from the state’s higher education commission and earn reaffirmation from the Middle States Higher Education Commission.

Walton also said that revenue-generating plans with private partners, announced in July, were progressing and that a local company, Epcot Crenshaw, planned to relocate its headquarters to Cheyney’s campus. In the meantime, he said, the company, which focuses on the environmental impact of food production, plans to convert an existing Cheyney building into a laboratory. A greenhouse and aquaponics facility are planned, too.

Thomas Jefferson University, another partner, is planning to build a medical facility on campus, Walton said, and already has brought Cheyney faculty and students to its Center City campus for shared learning. Neither Walton nor Joseph Hill, Thomas Jefferson’s chief diversity officer, offered any details on the medical facility, noting that it was still in planning.

Cheyney University launches fund-raising campaign; president vows to end the year with a balanced budget – Philadelphia Inquirer – Susan Snyder

It is interesting that less than six months out from the deadline for Cheyney to make its case for continuing accreditation and essentially its survival, this fundraising campaign is just being announced. Details about possible corporate partnerships are still, at least in these latest comments, in the planning phases.

Cheyney has been in danger of closing for nearly a decade and save for loans from other public institutions in Pennsylvania’s system of higher education, the school would have shuttered long ago. That’s with or without accreditation.

In the last two years, everyone from state lawmakers to consultants to higher education officials all but announced that at some point, the end of the line for Cheyney would be a merger with nearby predominantly white institution West Chester University, which has emerged as one of the fastest growing institutions in a state plagued by population loss and the proliferation of the Penn State University network of campuses, all while Cheyney has collapsed.

Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Greenstein, months after saying that a potential merger was off the table for Cheyney, testified before state lawmakers in February that an alternative could be operating the school without accreditation.

Greenstein told the panel of senators he sees only three options ahead for Cheyney and offered his opinion on each.

“One of them is to continue as we are, which in my professional opinion is not viable,” he said. “The second is to recommend to the Legislature that Cheyney be closed because only the Legislature has that authority. That in my professional opinion would be the wrong thing to do.

“A third path is to acknowledge the likelihood that our accreditation will be lost immediately to begin to plan for our students and our employees who deserve a future and need our attention,” he said.

That third option would involve working swiftly to continue state funding to put Cheyney on a different path. After the meeting, Greenstein clarified what that might look like.

“There’s a misconception that a viable future for Cheyney requires accreditation and that’s not true,” he said.

Short on cash and students, a historically black university in Pa. faces a ‘watershed moment’ – (Jan Murphy)

If we put all of this together, the picture that emerges suggests that Cheyney will survive not as the nation’s oldest four-year historically black university, but as a training hub for entry-level and managerial career development pipelines into a variety of industries.

It would stand to reason that Cheyney is not interested in maintaining accreditation at all, but in buying time with current student tuition revenue as a means of reducing institutional debts to ease the burden on companies looking to buy Cheyney’s facilities and to begin setting up shop as a workforce development center. That kind of operation would not need accreditation, but could still earn support from the U.S. Department of Education, which has been piloting ways to give private companies access to student financial aid without formal accreditation since 2016, and has been expediting this plan over the last two years.

Cheyney could be at the dawn of another first for historically black colleges. It could be the first HBCU to die as an accredited liberal arts institution built on principles of earned credit hours, the diversity of human learning and financial elements of personal debt, capital expansion and philanthropy.

Cheyney could be the world’s first historically black workforce development complex, where students could bypass the accreditation gateway to live and learn on campus for four years and leave with career skills and a pathway to paying off debt while living a decent life.

Cheyney could be a blueprint for cash strapped HBCU peers, and that could be a wonderful thing. But if this could be Cheyney’s future, and all signs indicate that it might be, why is everyone basically lying about it?

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