Location, location, location is the time-honored mantra in real estate. Whether or not a similar premium exists for higher education may soon be put to the test. Rider University, experiencing financial challenges similar to many other private colleges, has announced a study of a “one-campus” model that would relocate its Westminster Choir College campus from Princeton to Rider’s main campus on Route 206 in Lawrence Township.
In a statement to students, faculty, and staff, Rider president Gregory Dell’Omo said the study is being led by board members and the university’s senior management team and Westminster leadership. Also participating is PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the consultant that worked with Rider during the last analysis of the one-campus model approximately 10 years ago. The results of the study will be presented to the full Board of Trustees in the spring, 2017, semester.
Earlier this fall Dell’Omo announced Rider was cutting 13 majors and laying off professors. Part of the problem: Only 865 new students had registered for classes in September, about 150 fewer freshmen than in 2015. Rider’s total enrollment has been falling since 2009. “This is a national trend. There is no question about it,” Dell’Omo said. “Schools are all going through this and trying to tighten their belts and really allocate their resources in the most efficient ways possible.”
Dell’Omo told Planet Princeton that Rider needs to increase its enrollment by 114 undergraduate students by the fall of 2017 and find $7.8 million in savings and then increase enrollment by another 46 undergraduates in the fall of 2018 and find another $7.2 million in savings. The Choir College, which has been in Princeton since 1934 and which merged with Rider in 1992, has an enrollment of 320 undergraduates and 119 graduate students, according to its website.
When asked whether the Choir College’s enrollment has been steady in recent years, or has been declining, a spokesperson declined to answer. Both colleges charge about the same tuition, room, and board. Rider costs about $53,600 before any financial aid is factored in. Westminster’s annual cost is about $52,100. The public (but highly rated) College of New Jersey charges $28,600 in tuition, room, and board for in-state students; $ 39,852 for out of state.
Reaction to the idea of moving the Choir College out of Princeton, where it is an active part of the town’s arts and cultural community, was uniformly negative. An online petition opposing the idea, posted at Change.org, attracted around 2,000 signatures. The online petition stated that combining the two campuses into one eliminates “the history and musicality that Westminster has provided for generations and continues to provide for us, the current students.” It termed the proposal a “blatant disregard for the culture and musicianship our separate campus provides.”
While any number of parties might be interested in buying the 28-acre Choir College campus, the question remains whether relocating the Choir College would create costs in others ways.
At least one major donor in the past has expressed disappointment with the idea. “I don’t like the idea that Westminster would move,” said Judy Scheide in an interview with the Princeton Packet. Scheide’s late husband, Bill, has a campus building named after him and donated money to help the school on several occasions. “I think he would be sad,” his widow was quoted as saying. The Packet reported that she had been considering donating an organ of his to Westminster, but said she might not if the school moves to Lawrence.
Westminster Choir College of Rider University, 101 Walnut Lane, Princeton 08540. 609-921-7100. www.rider.edu/wcc.