By Shaun Chornobroff
In front of an unplanned Zoom audience because of storms that terrorized the state the previous day, Rider president Gregory Dell’Omo showcased a university that had suffered because of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet was on the road to recovery at the fall convocation on Sept. 2.
Dell’Omo said that undergraduate freshman enrollment for 2021 is well below the fall of 2020 and explained that Rider still “has a ways to go to get back to a more financially solvent situation.”
“There are many factors which have been impacting freshman enrollment this past year, probably the most significant impact has been due to COVID-19 restrictions that prevented two critical influences and events that are important to Rider’s enrollment strategy,” Dell’Omo said to his audience.
Dell’Omo explained that the pandemic hit low to mid-income students harder than other demographics, which is an area where Rider gets a number of its students.
The issues with COVID-19 have also shown in student retention. Rider’s undergraduate returning student rate dropped to 76.8% this past year, a steep drop from 80.3% the year before. Dell’Omo said Rider’s total enrollment is at 3,827 students, which achieves the budget that Rider has, but is a stark drop from the 4,218 students from the previous year.
“When we talk about enrollment, it’s always particularly important to remember that freshman enrollment number,” Dell’Omo said. “That’s not just a one-year problem, that becomes a four-year problem, because it carries through the next four years for those students.”
There has been a 27% drop in residency for Rider, which Dell’Omo said adds up to about a $60 million loss in revenue.
With the school still reeling from the pandemic, Rider is projecting to operate at an almost $22 million deficit for the 2022 fiscal year.
The Path Forward
Despite the pandemic-related troubles, Dell’Omo was optimistic about the upcoming future and what is to come for the university.
One of the main points of Dell’Omo’s presentation was bringing in prospective students and putting a new aggressive recruiting strategy in place.
Dell’Omo said, “We put together a much more focused funnel development team that’s been established to further spin the student search process, name purchases and identify pipelines for prospective students within the recruitment funnel.”
As a part of this new initiative, Dell’Omo said there will be an increase in program-specific campaigns sponsored by the university, proven value messaging and “a lot more work in the area of in-person engagement.”
Dell’Omo announced that Rider will be moving away from its online education partnership with Pearson that started in 2019, due to lower than promised enrollments.
“We’re bringing that work in-house. So our graduate and continuing education online programs will be more done in-house. Therefore, we are going to be investing in the growth and expense of our marketing, recruitment and student navigation teams, and we no longer have to provide 53% of revenue sharing with Pearson,” Dell’Omo said.
Dell’Omo also touched on the two-phase project with the higher education consulting firm Credo. The multi-year partnership is already in the midst of its first phase, which started in the summer of 2021 and ran through the following summer.