Rider to be responsive to economic downturn
By Rachel Stengel
UPDATED WITH CORRECTIONS.
University president Mordechai Rozanski discussed a wide range of topics including increased financial aid, green initiatives, academic innovations and enrollment numbers, but emphasized on-campus expansion projects and increased fundraising at Rider’s annual Spring Town Hall on Thursday.
Rider continues to rise to the challenges of students’ financial aid, Rozanski said. There will be a 7 percent increase in financial aid for the upcoming academic year, which equates to an additional $3 million in aid. Thus, a total of $45.5 million will be available in financial aid next year. However, a 25 percent increase in appeals for additional financial aid, which represents a record 500 students, will be a challenge for the university.
“We are going to try to do everything that we can to be as responsive as we can be,” Rozanski said. “We have largely made up any of the cuts that were a result of the governor’s budget last year. We’ve absorbed those and we are meeting the needs of not only new, but returning students.”
Rozanski attributed Rider’s financial challenges to external forces.
“Overall, I’d say we’re doing fine,” he said. “However, I’m sure you’ll not be surprised to hear that, like many other universities dealing with the great recession, it means managing uncertainties on a regular basis.”
Speaking before a crowd of faculty members in the Yvonne Theater, Rozanski stressed the need for additional fundraising to finance the university’s current and future building projects. The new academic building and BLC theater expansion are on track to open in fall 2011. Future projects include an expanded parking lot and new academic building at Westminster, renovations at Memorial Hall and a new sports arena. Fundraising is in progress for these projects. Rozanski said Rider has invested approximately $100 million in its facilities since 2004.
“Clearly we have to keep investing more,” Rozanski said. “However, we do not wish to borrow. We seek to avoid doing so. We’re going to have to rely on significant and more robust fundraising because even in terms of our enrollment growth, we know that our growth will be topping off after a certain period of time. We’re focusing on online, graduate and other kinds of programs, but the emphasis for us is that we have to keep investing money here, but we’re going to have to rely on significant fundraising and other activities.”
Applications for the fall were down by 3 percent. Rozanski said this is a cyclical change that reflects the reality of the economy. The university is cautious to release the official numbers until figures are calculated in the summer. As of today, 88 percent of students will be returning for the fall semester, which is the same percentage at this time last year. At this time, Rider is ahead by 15 student deposits compared to last year.
Despite the economic downturn of the past few years, some areas of fundraising are beginning to see a recovery, Rozanski said. The annual fund is up 13 percent to approximately $1 million. Total cash gifts are up 93 percent and senior class gifts rose 225 percent from last year to an all-time high. This equates to nearly one third of the senior class contributing money back into Rider. The Annual Faculty and Staff Campaign is up 47 percent and is expected to generate $176,583. Also, parent fundraising is up 138 percent.
Revenue is also generated from other sources, according to Rozanski. Study tours, which allow students to explore cultural areas of the United States at a fee for a short span of time, are projected to provide about $6 million in income. Reopening Centennial House as a residence hall is expected to earn $400,000 annually.
Rider suffered a $2.5 million cut in operating and student financial aid last year with Gov. Chris Christie’s budget. The university absorbed the costs last year and is still feeling the effects of the cuts this year. To address the cuts, the university’s Innovation Agenda was launched nearly two years ago to manage costs and generate new and diverse sources of revenue, Rozanski said.
The plan includes rigorous management of financial resources, proactive enrollment management, facilities enhancement and robust fundraising programs. Substantial progress has been made, he said, with all four objectives in the past two years.
Academic alterations are under way, according to the Innovation Agenda. Education graduate technology courses will be available this summer. Rider’s triangular partnership with the Centre d’études Franco Americain de Management (CEFAM) and SANDA will expand in the spring of 2011.
The Freshman Discovery Program also will launch in fall 2011. The program offers a way to help undeclared freshmen settle on a major and ultimately pinpoint their career path.
Additional academic programs are part of the administration’s Innovation Agenda.
An M.A. in applied psychology will be offered in fall 2011 as well as a B.A. in popular music in fall 2012. Rider will expand its curriculum to include new online programs. A Registered Nurse-Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) online degree program is currently being developed. Master of Accounting (MAcc) online courses are expected to be implemented by the fall of 2013.
Rider strives to offer high quality and eco-friendly facilities, according to Rozanski. Rider was named in the Princeton Review’s 2010 Guide to Green Colleges. Additional energy-saving efforts are in the conceptualization stage. The university is in negotiations with two vendors to invest in energy-saving heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in academic buildings. The investment could free up revenue for the university.
“If we can get these vendors to invest, it could amount to millions of dollars which, we would have otherwise had to borrow, which we’re not going to do or to fundraise,” Rozanski said. “We will be able to fund things such as the Memorial upgrade, Science and Technology and so on. This would be a very valuable activity for the institution to generate significant savings for us over time. In fact, these companies would be repaid by the savings and energy that would be realized.”
Rider is in the process of leasing unused land from the softball field to I-95 to be used for the construction of a solar garden by Public Service Electric & Gas Company (PSE&G). Rozanski said, he university could possibly lease other unused land in the future to companies for Rider’s benefit.
Rozanski has a positive outlook for Rider’s future.
“With the collaboration of faculty, staff and administrators and our community as a whole throughout the university, we are developing and implementing creative and pragmatic strategies to successfully manage our various challenges to continue our institutional progress,” he said.