By Stephen Neukam
President Gregory Dell’Omo revealed slightly better-than-forecasted budget projections for the current fiscal year and previewed a hopeful vision for the school’s next semester, at a faculty town hall on Feb. 26.
Dell’Omo also debuted a new academic initiative by the university that promises career outcomes for students, a move the president hopes will make Rider more attractive than rival schools.
The financial projections and plans for the fall showed a university still in flux and searching for answers to the immense issues posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The university’s budget is set to overachieve original projections from the beginning of the year. However, this will be a small consolation with a deficit that stands at over $13 million.
The university is projecting a $13.5 million operating deficit for the current fiscal year, a figure that is slightly better than the $17.5 million shortfall that the administration budgeted for. While revenues plunged, the university recovered costs with a nearly $10 million reduction in labor costs in one year.
The projections will leave the university with $22.5 million on hand, with refinanced bonds giving the school more flexibility with cash.
There was also a substantial cost for the efforts the university made to soften the blow of the pandemic for students. In all, the university lost $4.7 million in potential revenue to the financial support of students.
Federal support has aided Rider a bit, with the university still weighing how to use the second round of federal funding that it will receive, according to Dell’Omo. However, $1.8 million of the second funding package will be used to help aid students in need.
Fall semester plans
While expectations for next semester remain largely in the air, Dell’Omo made clear that the university was planning for much more normal campus operations when students return from the summer break.
At the mercy of national and state guidance, Dell’Omo and other administrators previewed a fall semester that would resemble business as usual, including full classrooms and unmodified class schedules. Dell’Omo said he hoped that the state would communicate quickly with universities to give them an understanding of safety regulations.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs DonnaJean Fredeen said that while the university plans to release a course roster that features a regulated slate of classes, it will also have a “plan b” roster as well.
Early indicators of freshman enrollment next semester show overall applications down by 6.5% with a 20% decrease in applications to the College of Education and Human Services.
Westminster Choir College applications are down over 15%, with just 133 submitted so far.
Rider is not alone in undergoing enrollment challenges, said Dell’Omo. Universities are confronting application declines as students face uncertainty about what next year will bring.
As the university attempts to tackle enrollment challenges — a large priority in getting control of budget deficits — the administration is being aggressive in attempting to make Rider more attractive than rival institutions.
At the town hall, Dell’Omo revealed the “Cranberry Investment” — a revamping of the university’s commitment to career success. The president said it was the latest change in a line of ventures that he hopes will improve the value of a Rider education.
The program, which students will have the opportunity to opt in to and must maintain certain academic requirements, promises students an entry-level position or acceptance into a graduate or professional program within six months of graduation. If this promise is not met, the university will offer students extended support to achieve this goal, including free credits and career coaching.
Student Government Association President and senior musical theater major Dylan Erdelyi was made aware of the program before it was announced to the community and said he was looking forward to seeing it put in place.
“This is an exciting program that should provide some security for students graduating from Rider,” said Erdelyi. “I’m hoping it will further connect students to Career Services. It will be interesting to see what the program looks like in practice and how many students will end up taking advantage of the investment.”
Caption: The new program promises students career outcomes within six months of graduation.