Facing precarious finances and concerns from the leader of the State System of Higher Education, the leader of Cheyney University last winter vowed the school would end this fiscal year with a balanced budget.
As the year’s end approaches on Sunday, president Aaron A. Walton is optimistic that goal can be reached, though he won’t know for sure until lingering bills are settled by late July or August.
“We’re encouraged by what we see so far,” Walton said this week.
He declined to say if any potential deficit exists or how much money a fundraising campaign this year has raised. He said the university will probably release the total closer to November, when the Middle States Commission on Higher Education is expected to decide whether to renew the school’s accreditation.
The university owes a report to Middle States, a regional accrediting panel, by Aug. 15, and will host reviewers from the organization in September.
By that time, Cheyney anticipates meeting its target of enrolling 275 freshmen for the fall, for an overall student body of 634. “It looks very, very good,” Walton said.
The nation’s oldest historically black college, Cheyney has been struggling financially for years as enrollment has plummeted and academic statistics have been less than stellar. Enrollment fell well below 500 students last spring.
The Chester County university for the last two years has been granted extensions by Middle States, but its ability to keep its accreditation has been threatened by its troubled finances.
Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of the state system, which oversees the 14 state-owned universities, including Cheyney, said in February that the university was facing a nearly $10 million cash flow problem. He said the school was “highly likely” to lose its accreditation.
Rather than wait for the hammer to fall, Greenstein said, Cheyney should chart a new path, perhaps by affiliating with another university as a department or school, or providing career training programs that don’t require accreditation.
But after a meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf in February, the state system leaders decided to allow the university to continue its reform efforts under Walton, a retired executive who took over more than two years ago. The university last summer announced plans to partner with Thomas Jefferson University, Starbucks, and others in creating an African American-focused institute that would promote the school’s legacy.
A state system spokesman this week declined to comment on Cheyney’s status, deferring to Walton.
Earlier this month, the state system scheduled a special meeting to discuss the possibility of assisting Cheyney, but canceled the meeting because it was not needed, said Cody Jones, chief strategic relations officer for the system.
The state system has made several loans to Cheyney in past years. Jones said he didn’t know the amount Cheyney had raised so far in its campaign.
“They’re working really hard,” he said. “They’re working as hard as they can.”