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Cheyney University's accreditation in jeopardy over financial woes

| Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, 6:29 p.m.

A regional accreditation body has placed Cheyney University of Pennsylvania on probation because there is “insufficient evidence” that the school has the institutional resources to meet accreditation standards.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, based in Philadelphia, placed the historically black university on probation Nov. 19 and requested a report by September that outlines the school's plans to improve its finances.

According to the commission's website, Cheyney has two years to come into compliance, or it risks losing its accreditation. After receiving the monitoring report next fall — which the commission said should include a long-term financial plan, updated cash and financial projections, and the steps taken to improve the university's financial stability — officials will make a site visit to verify progress.

In a joint statement with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Cheyney interim president Frank G. Pogue said university administrators are meeting to develop a response by the commission's deadline, and pointed out that Cheyney is still accredited while it is on probation.

“The State System is committed to the long-term success of Cheyney University and will continue to provide the staff assistance and other resources as appropriate to help ensure that future on behalf of Cheyney students and the commonwealth,” said Frank T. Brogan, chancellor of the State System of Higher Education, in the statement.

The probation status confirms the “serious issues facing Cheyney University,” of which the state was aware, Brogan said. The state will be working with the leadership at the university, which is the smallest of the 14 it owns, to develop a long-term sustainability plan.

Cheyney, located outside Philadelphia, has struggled financially for years.

In August, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education discovered during a 14-month independent reconciliation of financial aid records that Cheyney officials failed to keep adequate records of students receiving $29.6 million in federal grants and loans awarded in 2011-12 and 2013-14. The Department of Education will determine what, if anything, must be repaid.

The review followed a state audit report in late 2014 that found that the university was on the verge on financial collapse.

Department of Education records show that in 2010 the school was put on provisional status to continue receiving federal financial aid after the school's student loan default rate exceeded 30 percent. Reports also show that more Cheyney students default on their federal loans — 28 percent — than graduate from the school in six years — 22 percent.

Like many historically black colleges and universities, Cheyney's enrollment slipped in the latter part of the 20th century as integration swept through colleges and universities across the country. Cheyney's enrollment plummeted from about 3,000 in 1977 to little more than 1,000 last year.

Founded by Quaker philanthropists in 1837, Cheyney bills itself as the oldest African-American institution of higher education in the United States.

Elizabeth Behrman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7886 or .

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