Cheyney University, the nation’s oldest institution of higher education for African Americans, has embarked on an outside-the-box course to not only survive but to again become a campus of high-achieving students.
This is a different kind of crisis communications case for Ceisler Media and one we are extremely proud to be associated with. The university’s president, Aaron Walton, is not your typical college leader. He comes from a 40-year career in the corporate world where he specialized in turnarounds.
From a communications standpoint, we have boiled down Walton’s recovery plan to three simple components:
Eliminate costs and balance the budget. The school is deeply in debt, so the football program unfortunately had to go, as did other programs. Cheyney has now pared itself down to grow into a model that can be sustained.
Take advantage of Cheyney’s 275-acre campus to form business partnerships with organizations that can locate on campus. That brings revenues to the school and real-life experience for students. To date, three organizations have made commitments. And there are talks underway for a hotel and conference center.
Raise enrollment standards. The policy of open enrollment has been eliminated. Only fully qualified four-year college students will be admitted. The change in policy has sparked interest from high-achieving students to attend Cheyney. Among students who’ve placed deposits to attend Cheyney in the fall, the average GPA is an impressive 3.25.
The simplified messaging is working. The media narrative has already shifted from dire to positive. Buoyed by the results to date and the long-term plan, Cheyney’s $4 million fundraising campaign has gotten off to a robust start.
In short, a great plan and simple messaging drives an organization a long way toward success, which is exactly where Cheyney is headed.
Kirk Dorn is the Senior Director in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia office.