Nation’s oldest historically black university unveils its plan to put the school on sounder financial footing

Cheyney’s supporters are looking for a pathway to keep the school operating in a financially sustainable way

  • Jan Murphy, PennLive

(Undated) — Cheyney University’s alumni and supporters are not ready to throw in the towel on the nation’s oldest historically black university.

Instead, they are mounting a $4 million fundraising campaign, planning to lease out space on the 275-acre campus, and working on boosting enrollment for the next academic year to improve the university’s financial situation.

At a news conference on Tuesday, university President Aaron Walton announced the launch of “Resurgence” fundraising campaigns that alumni will lead. Their hope is to raise at least $2.5 million of their goal to help address the school’s cash flow problems so it can end the fiscal year on June 30 with a balanced budget.

Balancing its budget is critical to a commitment it made to the State System of Higher Education to get $30 million forgiven of the $43 million that the university borrowed from the other 13 system universities to keep its doors open. Further, getting its financial house in order is also a condition it must meet to retain its Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation, which enables it to receive federal aid.

At a Senate budget hearing last month, State System Chancellor Dan Greenstein said Cheyney was at a watershed moment and sounded pessimistic about the university’s chances of remaining a standalone four-year degree-granting institution. However, he also made it clear that there were other options that could keep Cheyney operating in some form or fashion.

But Cheyney’s supporters are looking for a pathway that keeps the school operating in a financially sustainable way and believe the transformation that Walton is in the process of trying to make happen with alumni’s help is the way to do it.

Jann Murphy / PennLive

Cheyney University President Aaron Walton shared the plan he has crafted to solidify the financial future for the nation’s oldest historically black university.

Along with announcing the fundraising campaign at Tuesday’s news conference, Walton discussed the partnerships that have been forged between the university and two industry partners. Those partners, Epcot Crenshaw Corp., a West Chester-based environmental solutions company, and Thomas Jefferson University, plan to locate facilities on campus and become paying tenants along with having a role in the university’s educational programming.

Epcot Crenshaw plans to develop a new headquarters on the campus including research labs, greenhouses and a new aquaponics facility. Jefferson plans to place a medical facility on campus where students interested in health science can gain practical experience.

A third partner, Starbucks, also has committed to joint projects with Cheyney in researching barriers to workplace recruitment and retention for minorities in the Philadelphia area. Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, a Cheyney trustee, said this partnership came about in the aftermath of the arrest of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia last year.

Walton further indicated the university is in talks for a possible hotel-conference center to locate on campus and serve as a training ground for the school’s students studying for careers in the hospitality industry.

He also shared that the university has offered admission to more than half of the 2,700 students who applied to enroll in the school next year. The school is projecting that its enrollment which stands at 415 this semester will approach 700 next fall.

“Students enrolling for the fall semester should know two things as they prepare to join us,” Walton said. “First, Cheyney has positioned itself for a strong and sustainable future. And second, we have transformed Cheyney’s culture to accept nothing short of excellence in academics, character, and social responsibility.”

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