By Kaitlyn McCormick
After announcing the Path Forward plan over the summer to get the university back on track to financial stability, Rider’s enrollment and retention numbers are nearing and even surpassing targeted goals, much to the pleasure of the enrollment and admissions teams.
Rider’s Vice President for Enrollment Management Drew Aromando reported that as of Sept. 18, the fall semester is boasting 3,736 full-time equivalent enrolled students, achieving 101% of the Path Forward’s benchmark.
Total residential students, not including Mercer County Community College residents, falls at 1,685, again exceeding the university’s pre-set benchmark and landing at 101%.
Rider’s enrollment — and related room and board — is vital to stabilize the university’s finances. Aromando explained that, because Rider doesn’t have a large endowment, tuition, room and board are heavy players on Rider’s fiscal bench.
According to Chief Financial Officer James Hartman, that amount sits at 92% of the school’s operating budget.
This fall, the university is bringing on 806 freshmen and 215 transfer students, reaching 98% and 105% of Rider’s self-imposed benchmark, respectively, as of Sept. 18 and totaling 1,021 new students for the university.
Based on statistics from Aromando, this fall’s new student value has increased from 952 students by this time in 2022 and 808 in 2021.
While this fall’s statistics don’t yet compete with that of 2019’s 1030 students, Aromando said Rider’s prior stats are larger due to a dip in high school graduation demographics and the COVID-19 impact period.
Many in admissions, however, are still celebrating the year-to-year uptick.
Susan Makowski, executive director of undergraduate, transfer, international and Westminster Choir College admissions, described the rising enrollment numbers as a sort of “springboard” that keeps the positive energy flowing moving into a new semester.
“It just energizes you even more, because you’ve watched all of that hard work come to fruition in the last year,” Makowski said.
The first of four fall open houses will take place on Sept. 30, and Makowski said that the registration numbers for the event are already trending well, nearing the 500 mark by the evening of Sept. 19 and expected to keep growing.
Rallying for retention
One phrase that those unfamiliar with admissions jargon may hear tossed around is retention rate. But what is it, and why is it so important?
As explained by Aromando, Rider’s retention rate is based on the amount of fall freshmen that have returned as sophomores to the university on a year-to-year scale.
In short, a higher retention rate helps solidify Rider’s place and market value in comparison to other universities.
As of Sept. 18, Rider’s fall-to-fall retention rate was 80.6%, which Aromando says not only surpasses the university’s Path Forward goal of 80.1%, but is the highest Rider’s retention rate has ever been.
The university has recently put into effect a variety of new measures to better retention and market value, like its deregistration policy and 2.5 GPA threshold for admittance.
“When you arrive on campus, you shouldn’t have to worry about anything other than being a student,” Aromando said.
While the deregistration policy helps to prevent students from acquiring multiple semesters worth of financial hardship, the policy also helps retention rates by taking proactive measures to avoid premature drops.
Preparing for the future market
Enrollment strategies, however, don’t just exist within the academic year they’re servicing.
Enrollment professionals like Aromando are already tracking market predictions for years to come and anticipating a drop in high school graduates, which could mean a drop in applicants.
The university is already working to prepare for this tricky spot in the future market, through measures such as the GPA threshold, deregistration policy and introduction of new and trending majors.
“All of those things are preparing us to be relevant and successful for when we reach this cliff,” Aromando said.