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Report: Cheyney University's future uncertain

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the institution's fiscal situation warrants "swift, decisive action."

Pennsylvania State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. (AP Photo/The Citizens' Voice, Mark Moran)
Pennsylvania State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. (AP Photo/The Citizens' Voice, Mark Moran)Read moreAP

THE FISCAL health of Cheyney University, the nation's first historically black university, has deteriorated for five years and could worsen without immediate state intervention, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said yesterday.

An audit released by DePasquale shows that the university has a $12.3 million deficit as a result of bad debt, declining enrollment and decreasing revenue from state aid, tuition and fees. The school projects an additional $5.5 million deficit this fiscal year.

"The situation at Cheyney University should be a warning to the systemic financial issues facing state universities," DePasquale said in a statement. "Our best and brightest state leaders and stakeholders must work together to develop a long-term plan to ensure the stability of these public universities to provide affordable college education for families across the state."

Cheyney is one of 14 state-owned universities within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). Its state funding dropped from $15.7 million in 2009 to $12.8 million in 2013, the audit shows.

The audit is the latest call for action on the university, located in rural Chester County. Heeding Cheyney's Call - a coalition of students, alumni, faculty and other advocates - filed a civil lawsuit in October, charging state and federal officials with intentionally underfunding the university in relation to traditionally white state-owned universities.

Michael Coard, a lawyer for the group and a Cheyney alumnus, said yesterday that DePasquale's report echoes many of the group's concerns.

"The A.G. doesn't work for Heeding Cheyney's Call," Coard said. "He works for the state, so you have an agent of the state saying, in effect, the state has done something wrong."

A PASSHE spokesman said the group is working with Cheyney to address concerns mentioned in the report, including development of an institutional-enhancement plan for the long term.

Other findings in the report show that Cheyney failed to consistently ensure that employees, students, volunteers and individuals receiving a stipend who had direct contact with minors at university-sponsored events had appropriate criminal-background checks and child-abuse clearances between July 2010 and June 2013. It alleges the same for employees of external organizations sponsoring youth events on university property.

The university's response in the audit says it will comply with both regulations.