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Black College News

Part One: More Alumni Pitching In To Help Struggling HBCUs

By Rosaland Tyler

Associate Editor

New Journal and Guide

Four generations in the Brown family quickly explain why they are volunteering more at Cheyney State University. In plain terms their alma mater has been quietly struggling to survive. Two years after Saint Paul’s College closed in Virginia in 2013 and a Howard University trustee fretted about that school’s future in a letter that made headlines, Cheyney, the nation’s oldest Historically Black College and University (HBCU) was already in freefall.

As dominoes fall, Cheyney’s financial challenges keep going and going. For example, Cheyney attracted the attention of Moody’s Investors Service, the credit rating agency this past May, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And a consultant is still trying to track nearly $50 million worth of federal awards that were paid to students during the past three years. But this happened about four months after the state auditor said Cheyney’s future is “bleak and projected to worsen” without drastic action, in news reports. “And this is why we are working harder,” said Evelyn Brown, a retired educator who finished at Cheyney in 1975.

“We work about 10 hours a month recruiting at public events. At parent’s night we set up a table. We work on various fundraising projects. We try to showcase Cheyney as often as possible.” She uses the word “we” to refer to her entire family which includes her husband Richard, a retired educator, who graduated in 1961 from the school located outside of Philadelphia. Her daughter, Stephanie Brown, finished Cheyney and has worked as a school counselor for 19 years. Her son, Chris, is a Cheyney grad. Meanwhile, her granddaughter, Jasmine Richardson, is in her junior year at Cheyney and attending school on scholarship. “Our national alumni association is raising $2 million to help students at Cheyney,” said Evelyn Brown, who has headed the Cheyney Alumni Association of Delaware County since January.

She also belongs to Cheyney Alumni Chapter of Philadelphia. “In May, we helped present $10,000 to Cheyney to pay off bills,” she said. In fact, the whole family holds membership in one or more alumni chapters that raise funds for all types of efforts, including small loans for students to pay off bills. “The school’s problems are motivating us to participate more,” Evelyn Brown said. “Not only do we raise scholarship money but we also go to churches and community organizations and recruit students.” She is a deaconess at First African Baptist Church of Darby Township. Her husband is a deacon. And while they have paused to read some of the headlines which say the university that was founded in 1837 faces enormous challenges, still they roll up their sleeves and try to help solve a long list of challenges. Whether it is the sharp decline in state aid, the 20 percent enrollment dip, or Cheney’s dismal, school-loan-payback rate, they remain optimistic. They continue to volunteer because they know the university’s value.

Cascading financial challenges have not stopped the school from helping many students, including her daughter, Stephanie Brown said. “Cheyney is like a family,” Stephanie Brown said. “Professors and staff are nurturing, and push you to reach your personal best. Students are given numerous opportunities that they might not have.” “For example, my daughter traveled to Norway this summer,” Stephanie Brown said. “There is an article on the Cheyney website about the trip. She spoke at the PASHEE Honors Conference her freshman year, and represented Cheyney at the conference her sophomore year.” “It is the small family environment, professor/staff dedication, and numerous opportunities that made this gem the ideal university for my daughter.” Her father, Richard Brown, who cleaned campus buildings about six hours a day to fund his education at Cheyney said, “It makes me feel poorly to see the setbacks here.” “When I was here students cleaned the office buildings and classrooms,” he said. “The school made enough money to pay the students so they could pay their bill. But now they don’t have that anymore.” Next Week—Part 2- Alumni at HBCUs Are Volunteering More

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