The nation's oldest black college, Cheyney University, one of Pennsylvania's 14 state-run universities, is on the verge of a financial meltdown that threatens its ability to continue operating, a state official said on Wednesday.
Cheyney's student body has shrunk by two-thirds, to about 1,000, since its 1983 peak, and its four-year graduation rate is just 9 percent. A quarter of students never receive a degree, and student loan defaults are high.
"Cheyney is in dire, dire, dire straits," the state's auditor general, Eugene DePasquale, said. The university has had a deficit for four of the last five years, growing to a cumulative $12.3 million shortfall as of June 30, 2013.
Cheyney's fiscal problems - students who are unable to repay debt and increasing pension costs - were exacerbated by cutbacks in state higher education funding.
DePasquale called upon the State System of Higher Education - the governing body for the state-owned universities - and the legislature to help Cheyney find a way out of "a vicious, destructive cycle" in which declining enrollment and state funding leads to less money for investments that could attract much-needed students.
Cheyney, located in the Philadelphia suburb of the same name, was founded in 1837 after Quaker philanthropist Richard Humphreys bequeathed part of his estate to build a school to educate descendents of the African race, according to the university's website.