The Rider News recently had a chance to catch up with President Mordechai Rozanski and discuss issues facing our community as well as Rider’s goals and accomplishments.
Q: How do you think the university is faring in these harsh economic times? How is the university responding to the challenges of a down economy?
A: While we are not immune to the economic downturn, the university is continuing to make good overall progress and is managing its finances well. Clearly, compensating for the New Jersey state budget cuts to our direct aid and Tuition Aid Grants (TAG) was challenging. But with the help of our entire community, including phased salary savings, and through rigorous financial management, we were able to make careful budget reductions or reallocations to absorb the cuts without compromising the quality of our academic programs, student financial aid, student support programs or institutional progress.
In fact, we continue to emphasize academic development and renewal. We are doing so by constraining administrative and operating expenses while maintaining support for academics and the learning experience. As a result, we are able to continue to invest in strengthening existing programs and in developing innovative and attractive new programs for the benefit of current and prospective students.
The very good news is that a Rider education continues to be highly valued by new students and their families. This fact is affirmed by our success in achieving our freshman enrollment goal for both campuses this fall — with 28 percent of new students coming from out-of-state. Also encouraging was the large turnout of prospective students at our two Open Houses on Sept. 27 and Oct. 17.
It is, however, clear that the weak economy has affected students and their families. We see this in their enrollment decisions and our enrollment results. Some have decided to accelerate their graduation by taking advantage of our summer online courses and permissible 18-credit semester load. In fact, this past May, we experienced the largest graduating class in our history. This was a wonderful achievement, and not surprisingly, modestly lowered the number of returning students. We also saw that considerations of affordability influenced the decisions of some prospective transfer students about whether to attend Rider or a public institution this past fall. While most chose Rider, a few chose public institutions. Because we value a robust transfer enrollment, Rider will continue to educate prospective transfer students about our scholarship and need-based grant opportunities.
We are similarly committed to helping our current students and families who are facing financial difficulties. Over the past two years we have increased financial aid for our students by about $4.4 million (12 percent). This has helped students remain at Rider and, most importantly, complete their degrees at Rider. Our advisers and Financial Aid Office will continue to work with interested students and families so that they can develop both academic and financial plans, not just for one semester or year, but for the entire time it takes them to graduate. I would encourage students who are facing financial challenges to contact the Financial Aid Office.
Q: What is the university doing to help students pay for their education now that so much federal aid has been cut from our budget?
A: To clarify, federal aid has not been cut. It was the New Jersey state financial aid program called Tuition Aid Grants (TAG) that was cut this year. The cut for our students was about $500,000, but Rider was largely able to make up this reduction by controlling other costs, and reallocating funds, including those from the phased salary savings, to support financial aid. As a result, Rider was able to provide support to those students who saw a decline in their TAG award by supplementing this loss with additional need-based institutional grants. In addition, the Financial Aid Office continues to work with students to explore additional support through institutional endowed awards, external private scholarships and loan opportunities.
Q: What are your most important long- and short-term goals?
A: My most important long-term goal is to work with our community of faculty, staff and administrators to ensure that Rider provides our students with the highest quality education possible to help them achieve success in life and their careers.
My short-term goals are ongoing and involve working with the Rider community to continuously enhance our academic programs, facilities and financial vitality on both the Lawrenceville and Princeton campuses. This includes completing the current fundraising mini-campaigns on both campuses to support our new and proposed academic, residential and athletic facility needs, as well as to fund increased student scholarships. All these efforts seek to advance student success and Rider’s institutional excellence.
Q: What do you consider Rider’s biggest accomplishments since you arrived in 2003?
A: Rider’s “biggest accomplishments” since I arrived in 2003 have been the collective achievements of the Rider community, including faculty, staff, administrators, students, Trustees and alumni on both campuses. Examples include:
– Our most important accomplishment is that we graduated 8,396 students with bachelors or masters degrees; and I’m proud to say that I’ve shaken hands with most of them.
– The success of our graduates in being accepted by some of the best graduate schools and obtaining jobs with major firms.
– The increase in the quality and number of undergraduate students, while retaining small classes and 13-1 student to faculty ratio.
– Our increased diversity, including minority, out-of-state and international students.
– Our students’ excellence as reflected in numerous academic and athletic awards and success in national and international competitions, including three student Fulbrights.
– Our successful recruitment and retention of talented faculty, staff and administrators, including a significant increase in new, tenure-track faculty.
– The many new academic and student support programs such as Westminster College of the Arts and the Center for the Development of Leadership Skills.
– The expansion of online and summer programs, global partnerships with Sanda (China), CEFAM (France), Study Tours (Italy) and new study abroad programs.
– Our various sustainability advances, including our early signing of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.
– Securing $90 million to invest in facilities enhancements on both campuses, including new and upgraded residences, classrooms, labs, libraries, athletic and recreational facilities and our new academic building and performing arts facilities, among others.
– Successful reaccreditation of the College of Business Administration, School of Education, Westminster Choir College and new accreditation in School Psychology.