By Sarah Siock
At a faculty town hall on Oct. 28, Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo and members of his cabinet revealed upcoming challenges for the university that stem from a projected $20 million cash flow deficit for the 2022 fiscal year.
Chief Financial Officer Jim Hartman explained that the projected deficit for the 2022 fiscal year is $1.5 million lower than the university budgeted for, but is still not financially sustainable for Rider’s future. Hartman cited the debt as one of the reasons behind the university’s new partnership with the higher education consulting firm Credo.
“I’d like to equate it to all of our personal budgets. At home, if you’re spending more money than you’re bringing in, you have to make adjustments or you’re going to run out of money,” Hartman told faculty at the town hall. “That’s what we’re trying to do as we consultant Credo, to try to identify some more revenue enhancements and cost reduction so that we can eliminate that $20 million deficit.”
“We cannot go into the next fiscal year with this significant amount of debts. We just can’t,” Hartman said bluntly.
Another obstacle for the university is a downward trend in enrollment. As it continues to see a downfall in new students while attempting to recover from lost revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the town hall meeting, Dell’Omo said Rider’s total full-time enrollment for fall 2021 is 3,853 students, which is a decrease from 4,205 students last year, and a steep decline from 4,274 students in 2019.
However, Rider did see an increase in residential students with classes back in person. Currently, 1,605 students are living on campus, up from 910 students in 2020. Dell’Omo said the number of residential students is still not equivalent to pre-pandemic times.
Dell’Omo said, “You have to remember it wasn’t too long ago we saw 2,200 and 2,400 residence hall students. That’s revenue just going back to the bottom line that we use in our budget.”
Much of the town hall focused on Rider’s partnership with Credo, which has been criticized by Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The partnership will unfold in two phases, starting with a Student Experience Assessment that is already underway. At the town hall Provost Donnajean Fredeen said the assessment focuses on enrollment, retention and “ensuring students and their experiences are the primary focus of current and future decision making.”
Fredeen said, “We need to enhance our strategies that allow us to identify and aggressively recruit students to the institution, including our first-time full-time freshmen, our transfer students, our international students and our continuing education students. We need to build an inclusive, comprehensive approach to academic success, one that prioritizes all students, the best and the brightest, the at-risk students and those in the middle.”
Phase two of Credo’s involvement includes an academic prioritization process. Fredeen described academic prioritization as, “an internal comparison of our academic programs based upon our mission statement and strategic plan, and determine how we can better align our limited resources to support that mission.”
In 2015, Rider engaged in a prioritization process which resulted in the elimination of three programs: fine arts, German and business education. The process involves placing programs in quintiles with cuts being made to the bottom placements. Fredeen said an academic prioritization task force was formed for this year that is chaired by Associate Provost Matthew Stieglitz and includes eight other administrators.
On Oct.1 in an email to union members, AAUP leadership condemned the Credo partnership, claiming Credo has a “disturbing pattern of deep cuts of programs and departments, and reduction in student services” and asked members to not engage with the consultant’s representatives. During the town hall, it was revealed that full-time faculty rates have declined by 11.5% since 2017. Fredeen said no faculty members have stepped forward to assist in the process with Credo.
Hartman said in addition to academic prioritization, the same process will take place on the administrative side. He said this process involves determining where to invest money on campus and where to save money.
During the Q&A portion of the town hall, Dell’Omo addressed the faculty’s opposition to the partnership and the prioritization process.
Dell’Omo said, “ It all comes back to efficiency, the prioritization process and what that is going to mean. All I can say is we cannot go into next year with a $20 million deficit. It’s as simple as that. …We need to generate revenue as well as look at our costs. We have to deal with the reality of the situation.”