Cheyney University placed on two-year probation

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    Following a downward trend in enrollment and concerns about mismanaged federal funds, Cheyney University has been placed on watch status by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the local accrediting body.

    Cheyney, a former teachers college founded in 1837, will have two years to shore up “institutional resources” or risk losing its accreditation, according to a statement on the commission website.

    “Probation indicates that an institution has been determined by the commission not to meet one or more standards for accreditation,” according to the same public disclosure statement.

    Accreditation, a way of evaluating the quality of a college or university, also affects matters such as  eligibility for financial aid.

    Cheyney spokeswoman Gwen Owens said Tuesday that probation will not affect the degrees of current students.

    “We are fully accredited, and we do expect to retain this status for another 178 years,” she said, echoing statement by interim president Frank Pogue.

    The school has until Sept. 1 to put together a monitoring report that shows improvements in the area of long-term financial planning, “steps taken to strengthen the institution’s finances,” and up-to-date financial projections spanning the next five years. The commission also asked the university to take steps to ensure stable leadership.

    Mounting problems

    Cheyney’s enrollment dropped by half in the last seven years, and revenues have trailed off faster than expenses could be cut, according to a recent article by Inside Higher Ed. That report also detailed out-of-date facilities and a lack of a funding balance or endowment to float the school through hard times.

    Cheyney, situated between Delaware and Chester counties, came under fire earlier this year for failing to properly track federal financial aid dollars, resulting in up to a $29 million penalty.

    Various reports put the school’s deficit between $12 million and $22 million over the past three years.Some alumni have accused the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which manages the state’s 14 public universities, of underfunding the historically black school.

    State system spokesman Ken Marshall said that’s not the case. 

    “Cheyney receives significantly more funding per student than any of our other institutions,” he said. Marshall said the state system and Cheyney are in the process of developing a response to challenges outlined in the probation document.

    “I don’t think Cheyney being placed on probation has any impact on what we do,” he said. 

    He said the the issues facing Cheyney are well known, and the responses will likely include many of the same interventions already under way. The state will continue extending lines of credit and staff to the school, in an effort to shore up long-term financial stability, according to Marshall.

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