Cheyney Merger Proposal Off the Table?

In April, Cheyney University was at the center of a controversial legislative outline for college mergers and closures of member schools within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. But recent comments from the system’s chancellor suggest that the embattled HBCU may not be subject to consolidation plans.

Lancaster Online reports on PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein’s recent comments during a meeting at Millersville University, where he called for immediate culture change among the 13 campuses, including Cheyney, which faces challenges in declining enrollment and increasing costs for attendance.

Among the challenges before Greenstein and the PSSHE board of governors is a steady enrollment decline. Enrollment at the 102,000-student system has dropped by nearly 17,000 students, or 14 percent, since it peaked in 2010.

Tuition, meanwhile, keeps climbing.

The PSSHE board of governors in July approved a 2.99 percent increase in tuition to help offset a projected $49.2 million budget deficit. Baseline tuition at PSSHE universities for 2018-19 is $7,716, a 33 percent increase from eight years ago.

Greenstein said that mergers and closures would be a non-starter in the effort to rectify the system’s challenges.

Gone should be the days of constantly taking the easy way out by raising tuition to balance the budget, he said. Increasing tuition year-in and year-out, Greenstein said, is “not strategic. It’s taxing to our students. It’s punting the ball down the field.”

Closing or merging schools, as a recent study commissioned by the state legislature recommended, also isn’t an option, he said.

“We have an obligation to our students and the future students of our state to make that education available,” Greenstein said.

In April, the commissioned review of PASSHE consolidation options offered a scathing view of Cheyney’s prospects for survival, and possibilities of consolidation with nearby West Chester University.

Cheyney University is an example that came up repeatedly during the interviews. There were adequate warning signs for many years about Cheyney’s management of its operations and finances that negatively affected every aspect of the institution, including its administrative processes, quality of academic programs, and culture. But the board and the CO neither held the institution accountable nor intervened in a timely manner to address the seriousness of the situation. In 2015, Cheyney was put on probation by the Middle States Commission of Higher Education, and it continues to be on probation. To preserve the oldest historically black college, the board recently adopted a process by which the university’s more than $30 million in system loans may be forgiven. According to our interviewees, the money came out of the State System’s cash balance, which comprises the cash balances of all 14 universities and the CO. To the extent that the reserve represents funding to cover institutional deficits, other institutions now face greater risk in covering any deficits they might have.

In August, Cheyney published its strategic plan which outlined new objectives in course development, student support, corporate partnerships and campus modernization. Its release followed a July announcement of a new partnership with Thomas Jefferson University and the Starbucks Foundation to launch the The Cheyney University Institute for the Contemporary African American Experience, a research center dedicated to scholarly exploration of race, ethnicity and diversity in American life.