Cheyney University

An aerial view of the Cheyney University campus. — Courtesy of Cheyney University

The number of students enrolled in the 14 state-run universities dropped for the eighth consecutive year, but nowhere was the drop more precipitous than at Cheyney University.

Enrollment at the oldest historically Black university in the nation plummeted by nearly 38 percent, according to data from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Cheyney had 755 students enrolled last spring, the PASSHE data show. It had only 469 enrolled this fall.

University President Aaron A. Walton said the decrease in enrollment was largely due to the stiffening of admission standards at the school located about 35 miles west of Philadelphia.

Walton said 566 students have applied for admission next fall. Of that number, 124 have already been accepted. That compares more favorably to the 100 freshmen admitted out of just 136 applicants for the current semester.

Walton says the current admission standards at Cheyney are probably “the highest they have ever been.”

The university, established in 1837, almost lost its accreditation in 2017, but received a reprieve from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the accrediting body.

Also last year, the Board of Governors for PASSHE said it would forgive $30 million in loans if the school could maintain a balanced budget and could meet certain benchmarks.

Despite those woes, the university has made some progress.

Following the announcement in August of a partnership between Cheyney, Thomas Jefferson University, Starbucks and Epcot Crenshaw that created the Institute for the Contemporary African-American Experience, Walton said the university would have to increase its admission standards and that this may result in a temporary drop in enrollment.”

“We announced then that we were refocusing and adjusting and raising our academic standards on students we admit,” Walton said. “As we raise our standards and become a little more selective, we realized that we were going to lose some students.”

Walton said eight weeks into the spring semester Cheyney had seen a 26 percent decline in “unsatisfactory performance” among its freshmen class. He also said similar improvement took place among upperclassmen.

Overall, enrollment dropped at all 14 colleges in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education system to 98,094 overall. It was the first time that number fell below 100,000 enrollees since 2001.

Reasons for the drop include the rising costs of college and a reduction in state funding for 14 schools within the PASSHE.

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