With Cheyney University on the brink, backers rally in Philadelphia

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Graduates and supporters of the nation’s first black college, whose future is at risk, are trying to rally. And they want the area’s most powerful elected officials to rally with them.

Due to financial and enrollment woes, Cheyney University — which straddles Chester and Delaware Counties — could lose its accreditation.

On Tuesday, supporters of the college gathered near Gov. Wolf’s satellite office in Center City Philadelphia to plead their case and call on the state’s most powerful politician to help.

"He can pick up the phone and call the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and say, ‘Hey, I’m Gov. Tom Wolf. I understand that Cheyney’s got some financial problems. We got Cheyney’s back,’" said Michael Coard, an attorney and Cheyney alumnus.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education accredits Cheyney, but it may not for much longer. In June, Middle States asked Cheyney to "show cause," which means the historically black university must prove why it still deserves accreditation. That defense is due by the end of the month. In November, a committee may recommend that the commission pull Cheyney’s accreditation.

Such a move could spell disaster for Cheyney, which was founded in 1837 and for years primarily functioned as a teachers’ college for black applicants shut out of all-white institutions. In the years since legal segregation ended, Cheyney continued to be a refuge for black students seeking degrees and a sense of belonging.

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