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Editorial: Cheyney University - A School That Needs a Vision (871 hits)

Pennsylvania's own Cheyney University, founded in 1837, is the oldest historically black college or university in the nation.

The school should not be allowed to follow the course of other such institutions into non-existence. But that possibility looms large.

Cheyney is facing a backbreaking $2 million deficit, in part a result of dwindling enrollment. The university needs an infusion of administrative talent to help fledgling president Michelle Howard-Vital not just right the ship, but also steer it to safety.

America's black colleges aren't the only ones struggling to survive amid higher costs, reduced state funds, and big tuition bills that either intimidate low-income students into not applying or see them drop out after stretching their tenure far past four years in trying to make ends meet.

That last factor is a big reason why fewer than 30 percent of Cheyney's freshmen graduate in six years. But other historically black schools do better. Spelman, in Atlanta, for example, graduates 77 percent. Cheyney can improve, too.

All of the historically black schools suffer from high proportions of low-income students. But that's a good reason to keep them alive. Although they are only 4 percent of all colleges and universities, the historically black schools produce 30 percent of all black college graduates.

With college degrees, these men and women give back more to society than they receive. It may take them longer to finish school, but when they do, they get good jobs, buy homes, pay taxes, give to charities, and improve communities.

Cheyney serves a valuable purpose, and it isn't color-coded. Indeed, Howard-Vital, who took over a year ago, says she expects the 95-percent black campus to become more diverse. That can happen. But Cheyney has to get its house in order to attract all kinds of students from all income levels.

Today's successful college presidents know they have to compete for good students, high-quality faculty and staff, generous private benefactors, and dependable government support.

Many presidents have met that challenge by figuring out a niche for their institution, an area of excellence that attracts all of the above. Then comes the marketing job necessary to let the world know what you have and why it should be supported.

Bennett College in North Carolina had a $3 million deficit when former Spelman President Johnnetta Cole took over in 2002. With donors such as Maya Angelou and Bill Cosby, the deficit was erased in five years. People supported Bennett because Cole had a plan they could believe in. Howard-Vital must do the same for Cheyney.

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Wednesday, July 30th 2008 at 1:02PM
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good post!
Wednesday, July 30th 2008 at 6:18PM
Reginald Culpepper
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