Letter to the Editor: Professor: selling Westminster disadvantageous for Rider

To the editor:

The sound was ethereal, and the lyrics and harmonies were transporting and beautiful. These were the voices and offered hymns of hundreds of Westminster students, alumni, faculty and staff who had gathered with others in the plaza fronting Lawrenceville’s North Hall last Tuesday.

The university trustees meeting there would later announce that a buyer would be sought for Westminster. President Gregory Dell’Omo and the board justified the decision by referring to the university’s strategic plan and its focus on new academic programs, facilities improvement and affordability.

The sale or transfer of that campus hurts Rider and is not sound for several reasons. First, it ignores the growing and great interest in the performing arts among prospective students. School districts, area- and nationwide, have created or are creating high schools for the creative and performing arts that represent perfect feeder schools for the Westminster campus. A growing interest among young adults in the performing arts has been fueled by shows such as “Glee” and “The Voice,” movies like “High School Musical,” live performances, and YouTube and other media posts. In short, Westminster’s offerings entirely fit the times.

In passing and still remarkable to me, “fitting the times” were the preponderance of Rider programs and personnel facing termination or reduction in Fall 2015, in such areas as entrepreneurship, environmental and marine science, foreign languages and fine arts. Absent here was understanding how these programs fit the times and, consequently, insufficient institutional marketing of them.

Also arguing against a sale is that Westminster for years has provided Rider University with an enormous amount of positive publicity — locally, nationally and internationally. Its graduates are dispersed across the arts, and are respected and accomplished. In the student-rich Philadelphia Metropolitan Area, Rider’s name appears most frequently because of this Westminster affiliation. In this area still, little is known about Rider’s excellent array of academic programs, program-tailoring opportunities, quality instructors, small classes, safe and beautiful campuses and the ability to “live away from home but close to home.”

Thirdly, communication from the Westminster Coalition suggests that the Westminster campus is in much better financial condition than Lawrenceville. If it is believed that higher enrollment is needed at Westminster, the simpler solution is intensifying efforts to achieve the level of enrollment desired. If not done already, faculty could be enlisted to help in this effort, as my colleagues and I were in the past, when we talked by phone with prospective students, some of whom we later advised at Rider.

Broadening discussion to Rider enrollments in general, the problem of under-enrollment has been a significant problem since well before my retirement in July 2013. Addressing this and our fundraising are of the highest priority as they bear on affordability, instructional quality, employee compensation and university reputation and improvements.

Especially concerning is that Rider’s student enrollment is down more than others. Data from New Jersey’s Office of Higher Education shows that for two recent years, Fall 2013-14 and Fall 2014-15, Rider overall enrollment declined by 2.9 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively, while other private universities in the state with similar or higher tuition had enrollment increases – Monmouth, +2.4 percent, 0 percent; Seton Hall, +3.3 percent, +2.0 percent; and Stevens Institute, +5.0 percent, +3.8 percent. Further, a Fall 2015 article at nj.com citing data from another source reported the following changes in student enrollment at private universities since 2009: Rider, -12 percent; Felician, -8 percent; Bloomfield, -7 percent; Farleigh Dickinson, -2 percent; Monmouth, -2 percent; Seton Hall, +1 percent; St. Peter’s, +5.8 percent; Stevens Institute, +6 percent; Princeton, +6.5 percent.

Also, countering the claim of a decline in the number of college students in New Jersey is data that shows that full and part-time enrollment in the state’s colleges and universities grew about 1 percent from Fall 2009 to Fall 2014; and full-time enrollment of undergraduates in the state was at the same level in 2014 as it was in 2009 (New Jersey Office of Higher Education).

Concerning fundraising, the College of Business remains unnamed after 29 years in its current building and none of Rider’s colleges or schools are named, while other area universities are selling naming rights for their schools and raising millions for improvements. Rider has perhaps just one endowed chair, though there are faculty, past and present, who were and are deserving of that honor – remarkable as Rider has for decades trained principals and directors at every leading accounting firm. Our endowment ($58.3 million), which generates important revenue for our campuses, is low compared to many of Rider’s competitors — Drew, $166.7 million; La Salle, $88 million; Monmouth, $80.3 million; Rowan, $173.8 million; St. Joseph’s, $215.9 million; Seton Hall, $264 million; Stevens Institute of Technology, $173.7 million, and Villanova, $563.9 million.

Typically in organizations, individuals responsible for crucial organization areas and tasks are expected to meet established performance goals. The well-being of the organization depends upon it. Understandably and common, the repeated inability of individuals responsible for key tasks to meet their goals over time prompts a search for individuals who can.

 

—Gerald D. Klein

Professor Emeritus, Organizational Behavior and Management

 

Printed in part in the 4/5/17 issue. 

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