By Stephen Neukam
At a faculty town hall meeting on Feb. 27, Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo and members of his administration unveiled current projections of a multi-million dollar budget deficit for the current fiscal year and teased a plan to even the budget by 2024.
The university is projecting a $14.1 million deficit for the current fiscal year — in 2019, that number was $12.2 million. Chief Financial Officer Jim Hartman said that one of the major differences of what the university planned for in its budget and what ended up happening was a decline in returning students — the freshman to sophomore retention rate went down 1%, graduate enrollment was down 3% and the College of Continuing Studies enrollment fell 26% in the spring.
To make up for the changes, Hartman said, the university implemented university-wide budget reductions, mainly on supplies and professional services.
“You cannot keep on running an operation like that,” Dell’Omo joked.
“We are working on a plan right now to present to the Board [of Trustees] and to the community — a plan to try to get us to break even by the fiscal year 2023,” said Dell’Omo. “It’s challenging. It is going to be an uphill battle but we think we have a plan in place that might be able to get us there.”
Dell’Omo said he does not expect the plan to go in front of the board until the summer.
One of the main challenges that the school faces is changes in higher education. Particularly, Dell’Omo said, in affordability. In 2020, the university gave out $78 million in scholarships — a number that will rise to $85 million in 2021, according to Dell’Omo.
Included in these challenges is declining enrollment in higher education in general, declining numbers of high school graduates in the northeastern areas of the country, competitive pricing from public institutions, and competition with universities that Rider typically contends with.
Dell’Omo also announced that a task force has been assembled to address Rider’s response to the COVID-19 virus. He also said the university has been working with local and state health officials as part of its planning. Dell’Omo said the university was prepared to confront the situation in a number of ways, including possibly closing the university.