2019 Philadelphia UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball

Cheyney University President Aaron Walton speaks at the 2019 Philadelphia UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball. The embattled university recently received $60,000 in grants from the UNCF. — PHILADELPHIA TRIBUNE PHOTO/RONALD GRAY

With Sunday looming as the deadline for Cheyney University to prove it has balanced its budget, Cheyney President Aaron Walton was optimistic that the school would make it.

“We are encouraged by what we see so far and we remain confident,” Walton said on Thursday. “This week I had the pleasure of welcoming most of our incoming freshmen for orientation for the fall semester. They reflect the fact that Cheyney is on its way back. Our enrollment is increasing right on track and we will continue to grow each year.

“Our new students and their families tell us they love the campus and the family feeling we cultivate here. We look forward to welcoming them back in several weeks as we begin another exciting year of growth and improvement.”

Walton would not not say how close the university was to raising the money needed for a balanced budget other than to say that the university had been actively raising funds for “quite some time.”

“Our fiscal year ends this weekend and we will be able in the next several weeks to make an announcement about our target of a balanced budget. We remain optimistic that we will meet this objective,” Walton said.

If Cheyney does not balance its budget by Sunday, the nation’s oldest historically Black college could lose its accreditation. If Cheyney does balance its budget, the school, which is part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, must then present a report to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the regional accrediting body, detailing its progress, by mid-August. Then, in November, the Middle States Commission will again evaluate Cheyney’s accreditation.

If Cheyney can balance its budget for the next three years, the state will forgive $30 million of the $43 million it owes to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

In March, Walton said that Cheyney was facing an approximately $4 million deficit.

Also in March, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Greenstein said the university faced a $10 million deficit and would most likely lose its accreditation this year because it was not in a position to balance its budget.

In a meeting with The Philadelphia Tribune’s editorial board also in March, Walton said Aug. 15 was the next deadline, when the university must detail what became of $29.5 million in financial aid it administered between 2011 and 2013.

At that same meeting, Walton said that the university was planning a media blitz in an effort to raise money for the school as part of the Resurgence Fundraising Campaign, led by the nonprofit Cheyney Foundation. Also at that time, Walton said there were crucial “donors” assisting with fundraising efforts.

Messages left with the Cheyney Foundation were not returned.

The university in Delaware County has been struggling financially for years, and its struggles have been reflected in declining enrollment. About a decade ago, the school had more than 1,400 students. This past year, school enrollment fell 38%, plummeting from 744 students to 469, representing the biggest decline by any of the 14 state-run colleges.

In May, just 168 students received diplomas.

The reduced enrollment has led the university to cut majors (from 19 to 15) and its football program.

Last July, accompanied with much fanfare, Cheyney announced the formation of the Institute for the Contemporary African American Experience, a partnership between the school, Thomas Jefferson University, research and development firm Epcot Crenshaw, and Starbucks.

Don Hackney, a member of the class of 1961 and a longtime member of the regional alumni association, said on Friday that he was optimistic that the school would meet the deadline and eventually thrive again.

“I believe that it is is all going to be resolved,” said Hackney, adding that Walton recently assured him that fundraising efforts were going well. “I have never heard anything other than they have it in check. I know that the president has been working very closely with the state about this to get it done.”

If Cheyney survives, Hackney said, the university would need to take drastic measures moving forward.

“Obviously, it can’t continue like this,” Hackney said. “It’s been on its deathbed for too long. There need to be changes in so many aspects.”

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