“There are 105 historically Black colleges and universities in the United States. They have graduated a Nobel Prize winner, astronauts, educators and generations of leaders in every field. But with stretched budgets, dwindling endowments, decreases in loans to lower income students and an increasingly financially driven accreditation process, these cherished institutions are under siege.”

Dr. Julianne Malveaux

The August 2013 issue of Essence Magazine features an article by Dr. Julianne Malveaux the former president of Bennet College for Women in Greensboro North Carolina. Dr. Malveaux’s article, entitled Is There A War on HBCUs?, shares the tenuous plight of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Most HBCUs are struggling to survive as the cost of a college education escalates higher every year, US the economy remains stagnant for most African-Americans and “integration” has allowed many Black students access to white institutions that fifty years ago were closed to us.

In June 2013, St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville Virginia an HBCU which was founded in 1888 closed its doors due to declining enrollment, loss of accreditation and mounting debt. Many HBCUs are facing similar difficulties. In her article Dr. Malveaux shared some of the causes for HBCU falling behind. HBCUs are failing to attract high achieving students because many Black colleges and universities cannot match the financial aid and scholarships white institutions offer.

Many are facing fiscal crisis due to a myriad of pressing issues: recent changes in lending policies for student loans which make it difficult for low income Black families to qualify for loans, higher student loan defaults due to a struggling national economy concomitantly negatively impacts HBCUs because student loan defaults count against the school’s federal government rating, many students aren’t able to find jobs to begin paying their loans back within six months, declining financial support from the federal and state government, accreditation agency bias against small schools that lack major endowments, many HBCU endowments lost money during the crash of 2007-2008 which further exacerbated their fiscal situation.

Lack of government support is another reason. For example Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett slashed state support to the thirteen state owned colleges and universities 18% last year. His original budget called for Draconian reductions in state appropriations to the universities but he was stopped due to a major backlash from the universities, parents and the public.

In the case of Cheyney University the state’s failure to abide by court agreements dating back to the 1980’s and 90’s has negatively impacted the university. In a settlement agreement, the state of Pennsylvania promised to remediate its long standing policy of unequal appropriations to Cheyney by improving the physical facilities and providing funding for innovative academic programs that would have kept the university competitive and viable.

A committee of former students, former and current faculty and alumni many who were involved in the original lawsuit in the 80’s are now working to rectify this situation and hold the state accountable. Just the money Corbett cut from Cheyney’s Keystone Honors program totals one and a half million dollars which has hurt the nationally recognized program. These cuts don’t include the millions for academic programs the state failed to appropriate over the years in blatant violation of the court agreement.

The Council of Trustees and university administrators have been forced to gut programs, lay off staff and curtain hiring to structure a balanced budget that has already been egregiously impacted by Corbett’s cuts and the state’s unwillingness to honor agreements from the 80’s and 90’s.

Philadelphia attorney Michael Coard, a Cheyney alumnus, is spearheading an initiative called Heeding Cheyney’s Call.

Coard and a steering committee are meeting; they have contacted the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to ask them to review the states failure to comply with long standing agreements the state signed to ameliorate long standing funding inequities. The Heeding Cheyney’s Call movement is gaining momentum as word spreads about St. Paul’s College closing, Cheyney’s plight and the state of Pennsylvania’s direct culpability in it.

Thousands of Cheyney alumni live in the tri-state area. The Cheyney University National Alumni Association Executive Board wholeheartedly supports this initiative. Several Board members including myself are on the steering committee. The current Cheyney University Student Government Cooperative Association officers are in full support of this initiative, as are many faculty, numerous area politicians and community groups like the NAACP.

Saving the nations HBCUs is all of our responsibility. Read the August Essence article to glean a former college president’s perspective and insights on why HBCUs are in trouble. Locally support the Heeding Cheyney’s Call initiative. St Paul just closed don’t allow this to happen to Cheyney or any other HBCU!

For more information go to the Heeding Cheyney’s Call Website , their Facebook page  or join the movement via Twitter. This is not an armchair movement.

It requires action and direct support. Keep in touch, stay informed and make it happen. I’ll offer more information as it becomes available.

Click here to download HBCUs At A Critical Juncture.