By Lauren Santye and Kevin Whitehead
A dip in enrollment of about 80 students when school opened this fall has edged up to 107, a difference the administration says means a further loss of $819,000 in revenue.
Cuts in department operating budgets and course sections offered in 2014-15 have already been announced by the administration.
The faculty union sees things differently, according to Dr. Jeffrey Halpern, the contract administrator of the Rider chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The decline in students should not have taken the school by surprise, he said.
“Nationally, the rising and falling of enrollment was predictable,” Halpern said. “The demographics at work told us that enrollment was going to rise and then decline because the total number of students at college-going age was going to rise, fall and plateau, then go back up.”
The back and forth between the administration and the union was the latest in what may be a yearlong discussion leading up to faculty contract negotiations next summer. After his opening fall convocation in which he announced the enrollment deficit, President Mordechai Rozanski took a PowerPoint “road show” to the colleges and several major divisions of the university. He detailed the intense competition Rider faces for students, especially from public colleges, and he stressed the financial impact.
But some longtime faculty are brushing off these reports as the bad economic news they are used to hearing right before contract talks.
“This is a traditional negotiation tactic, which if I was them I would do the same thing,” said Dr. Joseph Gowaskie, professor of history. “It could backfire because it could make the faculty much more militant and ready for a fight. Faculty are pretty complacent. By doing this, it may stir them up.”
Administrators insist that the current enrollment challenges are not business as usual.
“It is a challenging period for all of higher education, and Rider is not immune to it,” Associate Vice President of University Communications and Marketing John Lenox said. “Through Town Hall meetings, Convocation, and follow-up meetings in the colleges and divisions, the administration has sought to share enrollment and financial information in a transparent way with all members of the community.”
Administrators said they were surprised this semester when the enrollment numbers came in. The figures didn’t match what they were hoping for.
Vice President of Enrollment Management Jamie O’Hara said that there is usually an enrollment decline between the beginning of the semester and Oct. 1, but this year’s decline was higher than previous years’. The university also did not anticipate a shortfall in new transfer enrollment.
“Unfortunately, because of the difficult economy, we missed the new transfer goal by 14 students, contributing to the additional 27-student shortfall after opening,” O’Hara said.
“Many of these students did not share with the university that they had made other plans,” O’Hara said.
Halpern said, “we do know that the number of students here has declined, and I’m fairly confident when the university reports that we have 27 fewer students than we did on the first day, it’s accurate. “But it’s a lot harder to count the dollars of those heads.”
According to the AAUP, Rider has enjoyed many years of budget surpluses.
“We’re not broke,” Halpern says.
However, several categories of costs have been rising – some have even doubled, said Julie Karns, vice president for finance and treasurer.
“If you compared the 2004 audit from Dr. Rozanski’s first year at Rider to the most recent year ending June 30, 2013, the fastest-rising category of expenditures was financial aid,” she said. “It doubled, from $26.6 million to $53.2 million. Academic support grew by 60% to $15.3 million.”
Karns said that academic support entails all staffing costs at the college level, as well as libraries and academic computing, as well as academic support, like disabilities and tutoring services.
However, Halpern believes that, although these figures may be accurate, they could be misleading.
“You might assume that instructional category includes no administrators, but this is not the case,” he said. “All academic administrators — deans, provosts, etc. and their staff — are included in this category. To put this in perspective, the number of full-time faculty has not increased significantly during this time nor have faculty salaries increased at anything like the 63% rate for instructional expenses.”
The two most debated categories include instructional expenses and institutional support, more commonly known as administration. Karns said that faculty salaries and costs of what goes on in the classroom are categorized in the instructional expenses.
“For non-scholarship operating expenses, instruction is our largest expense,” she said. “Over that period (from 2004-13), instructional costs grew by 63% to $62.4 million. Dr. Rozanski mentioned at town hall, the slowest growing cost category was institutional support. Those costs grew by 40% over the seven-year period, to $22.5 million.”
Karns said that Rider has budgeted differently during the enrollment decline.
“Examples of our prudent budgeting included not filling 20 administrative and clerical vacancies, and competitively bidding contracts to reduce or contain costs for food services, utilities, office supplies and many other goods and services,” she said.
Rider has been able to pinch pennies and save money in other ways too.
“We aligned class section offerings to reflect enrollments, and over the last three years made spending cuts in non-academic departments,” Karns said. “We also changed the premium sharing costs on medical benefits for non-faculty employees in Rider’s medical plans.”
Halpern questioned the wisdom of cutting back on class sections even in a time of budget shortfalls.
“Each section of a course that we offer has a price tag,” Halpern said. “But we have to ask, ‘How does reducing sections affect the long-term health of the institution?’”
According to Karns, the cuts save money while preserving the quality of a Rider education. Because of these changes, Rider has been able to balance the budget “despite inflation and the slower growth of revenue.”
Halpern worries that the cuts mean Rider may not live up to its commitments to new students.
“When potential students and parents ask, ‘Why should I come to Rider and not to another college?’ it’s legitimate,” Halpern said. “What I think the school says to them is that we promise to have smaller class sizes and you can take classes as you need them.”
Halpern expressed concern that if a different picture is portrayed of Rider, it could hurt the universities reputation in the long run.
By the numbers
This year the university disclosed to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) the operating budget numbers in each department. These amounts cover costs for supplies, printing, meals for meetings, library books, and so on, but not personnel costs.
“This is the first year in which the academic departments were included in the efforts to reduce operating budgets,” said Julie Karns, vice president for finance and treasurer.
An 18-page document was released to the union, which distributed it to all bargaining unit members. It included each academic department and program budget, how much money each is given in each line items, and the cuts that are planned to help meet the enrollment shortfall.
The grand total of the departmental expenses budgeted was $1.18 million, which is only about 0.7% of the university’s annual budget. Now these budgets are being cut $86,064.
The figures contain some startling differences among departments.
For photocopying, both American Studies and Sustainability receive zero funds, while the Psychology Department received a whopping $11,752, which is being cut 27%. Writing Across the Curriculum has only $75 for photocopies — and that is being cut by $5.
The Executive MBA program has the biggest operating budget, including $109,075 for travel, $147,335 for other professional services and $49,077 for advertising. The travel is untouched, but the professional service and ad lines are being cut a total of $30,000. The Executive MBA has only $65 for postage. On the other hand, Teacher Education can mail $2,093 worth of letters and packages.
While most departments have spaces on the spreadsheet for telephone tolls, the numbers vary considerably — from zero (Physics) to the leader in long-distance at $2,545 (Sacred Music).
A consistent pattern is hard to find in the cuts. Graduate Education, Leadership and Counseling is losing 10% from its tiny $155 budget to buy “furniture and equipment < $2,000.” Supply Chain Management is losing more than half of its $9,320 advertising budget. The $2,000 budget for equipment maintenance in the Music Education Department is being slashed 93%. The $50 budget for meals for meetings in the Fine Arts Department is being cut by, well, $50.
Although there was concern among staff that the release of numbers would cause turmoil among the departments, Dr. Jeffrey Halpern, the contract administrator of the Rider chapter of the AAUP, said it was the first time that faculty members had ever seen their own budgets, let alone anyone else’s.
“We did so in the spirit of transparency that we operate on and believe that the university should operate on,” Halpern said. “The goal was not conflict, but clarity and reason.”
He said the Chemistry budget of $64,050 for lab supplies may sound high, but many would agree it’s necessary.
Karns agrees with the ultimate goal in releasing the budget numbers.
“If sharing the details helps create dialogs on how we can best allocate the available resources to support students, that is a positive result,” she said.