Rider University is seeking a buyer for the Westminster Choir College and its 23-acre campus in Princeton. The move is intended to help the college meet a projected $13 million budget shortfall by 2019, which the administration blames on declining enrollment. The private college had about 5,000 students last year, down 1,000 from six years before.
Rider had previously considered consolidating Westminster to Rider’s Lawrence campus. The music school has been a part of Rider since 1992, and the university had considered selling the school several times since then. Westminster students, faculty, and alumni had protested the proposed move, saying leaving the Princeton campus would damage the school’s spirit and its reputation.
On April 3 Westminster faculty passed an envelope and raised symbolic contributions to the “Secure the Future of Westminster Choir College” and at a meeting, touted the school’s “ the strong position Westminster finds itself in today with regards to its finances, enrollment, and prestige, despite Rider’s difficulties.
The Westminster sale is just one of the steps Rider has taken recently to address its financial troubles. In 2015 the school announced it was cutting 13 majors, one minor, and 20 jobs. The layoffs were averted by a wage freeze and other faculty concessions that covered the $2 million the university would have saved through the cuts. In response to the enrollment woes and cuts, some members of the faculty union have threatened a “no-confidence” vote against Rider president Gregory G. Dell’Omo.
While the ultimate fate of Westminster hangs in the balance, other local institutions of higher learning find themselves in very different circumstances.
A few miles away from Rider, in Ewing Township, the College of New Jersey is enjoying steady enrollment at around 7,300, and accolades from college-ranking magazines. (Last year it was No. 3 among northeastern regional universities by the estimation of U.S. News and World Report.)
Despite cuts to its budget — the public college gets about 20 percent of its revenue from the state — the College of New Jersey is holding its own financially. There has been no talk of major staff cuts or selling programs to other institutions.
Michael Klein, CEO of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, says public colleges have been able to offer students lower tuition and compared to private schools, and generous financial aid. In the 2014-2015 school year, Rider cost about $29,000, while TCNJ was around $20,000 factoring in financial aid.
Without financial aid taken into account, a full year at Rider, including fees, Room and Board, would cost $58,615, while TCNJ would be $28,674 for New Jersey residents and $39,852 for out-of state students.
“In the case of the College of New Jersey, it has among the best four-year and six-year graduation rates among senior public institutions in the country,” Klein wrote in an e-mail. “Again according to the College Navigator, 72 percent of the students who began in 2009 at TCNJ completed their degree in four years, and 85 percent of the students who began in 2009 completed their degree in six years.”
Klein says other public colleges, like TCNJ, have been competitive with their independent counterparts.
“The overall appeal for the state colleges and universities is their excellent education at an affordable cost,” he says.