Cheyney University

Browne Hall on the quad at Cheyney University.

— WHYY Photo/Emma Lee

Congratulations to Cheyney University, which learned this week that it will maintain its accreditation.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the regional accrediting body, told school officials on Monday that it will maintain its accreditation, which is vital to the university’s future. Without accreditation, the school would have been ineligible for federal and state financial aid, which many of its students depend upon.

The commission reached a decision known as an “action” last Thursday, but did not announce it until Monday.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s pledge to make sure Cheyney’s $40 million debt to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and its chancellor’s office is eliminated was key to the decision. It wasn’t immediately clear how the governor would ensure the elimination of the debt.

The nation’s oldest historically Black college deserved accreditation approval for making significant progress in recent years.

Cheyney University President Aaron A. Walton has helped turn the university around by leading a fundraising campaign developing partnerships to ensure the school’s financial future.

Cheyney’s survival is not only important to the school’s students, their parents, faculty and alumni, but to the region.

“Cheyney University is the nation’s first historically Black university and remains an important educational resource for many Pennsylvania students,” Wolf said in a statement.

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 president and CEO of The Philadelphia Tribune.)

However, in recent years Cheyney has struggled with plummeting enrollment, financial woes and the threat of losing accreditation.

The commission’s decision gives the university the opportunity to improve.

For Cheyney to make progress it must continue to balance its budget, luring new top-tier students and raising funds. Government funding would also help.

Cheyney must also continue to develop and grow its partnerships, including:

Epcot Crenshaw Corp., a West Chester, Pennsylvania-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 has had its doubters and critics.

Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, has previously 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.

But all indications show that Cheyney is moving in the right direction and has made substantial progress with its new leadership and vision.

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 the number of applications received increased 33% over last fall.

Cheyney has demonstrated that it has earned the right to receive accreditation and continued support. The Middle States Commission should be commended for recognizing the progress that has been made.

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