Saturday, November 07, 2015

Cutbacks At Rider University - The Cost of College Education in the U.S.

Rider University's Lawrenceville, NJ campus
The release of Labor Department statistics on Friday morning revealing the U.S. economy  added 271,000 jobs in October bringing the nation's unemployment rate down to 5% was certainly welcome news for the Obama administration.

Not so much for the 2016 GOP presidential candidates who relish any opportunity to try and trash Obama's record for a 20-second media soundbite.

The stats were good news for the labor market overall and possibly encouraging for the millions of long-term unemployed Americans, or those who've given up looking for work out of frustration (whom the Labor Department simply doesn't count).

I'm not sure that news is going to reassure the members of the Rider University faculty and student body who received news about layoffs and the cutting of academic programs last Thursday afternoon October 29th.

Last Saturday the 31st, I stopped by my favorite local haunt to grab a beer and watch some college football and I ran into someone I'll call "Ed", who I know as a casual acquaintance from the bar.

Ed is a tenured teacher at Rider and we often discuss issues related to the challenges faced by faculty members who work in higher education in New Jersey. Teachers from Rowan University and Mercer County Community College also hang out at the bar as well, so the issues they face often come up as part of casual conversation.

Ed was still reeling from Rider's announcement about the elimination of fourteen full-time faculty and two clerical positions and removing fourteen different academic programs from Rider's curriculum as part of cost-cutting measures designed to address a budget shortfall of $7.6 million for the current $216 million budget.

The cuts in staff and academic programs are expected to save $2 million per year, but many faculty members including Ed are questioning how cutting majors like web. design, business education, philosophy, French, art and art history are going to affect the reputation and appeal of a private liberal arts college like Rider.

While juniors and seniors in the affected majors will be able to graduate, freshman and sophomores will have to switch majors - which isn't easy for those who've spent two years taking classes to earn credits for a major they'll now have to change.
Tuition for Rider University currently runs about $38,000 per year. It's not cheap for the 5,410 students currently enrolled at the college; which has an excellent academic reputation.

While Ed was not included in the job cuts and the department he teaches in was not eliminated, he was still upset about the cuts. Not just because the members of the faculty weren't consulted about the cuts, but also because he knows some of the fourteen teachers who will be loosing their jobs.

Ed and many of his co-workers are also concerned about the uncertainty of how the elimination of fourteen different academic programs will impact Riders academic reputation and ability to attract new students.

He was also rather pissed about hearing about the cuts via email from Riders president of four months Gregory Dell'Omo; see below.

While you might not realize it from Governor Chris Christie's bizarre rhetoric on immigration, one in four households in New Jersey now speak a foreign language at home.

There are now some 155 different languages spoken by residents of the Garden State. So closing academic programs probably isn't the best way to persuade some of the diverse students who live in New Jersey to choosing Rider as a 4-year undergrad option.

No surprisingly, there are some serious differences of opinion among members of Riders faculty and administration over the severity of the cuts - and they've been aware of issues related to budget shortfalls for some time.

Sept 2015: two incoming Rider freshman unpacking in their dorm room
For example, Ed told me there are dorms that don't even have air-conditioning on the Rider campus.
And there's grumbling among teachers about tenured faculty members in certain departments earning 3-figure salaries that are significantly higher than what teachers in other programs are earning.

Last week a forum was held for those being affected by the cuts, which got pretty heated at times as people vented their frustrations.

I felt like it was important to share this story about a small liberal arts college in New Jersey facing the challenge of declining enrollment and rising costs at a time when a four-year education is getting harder and harder for families of average means to afford in this country.

Ed forwarded me the email that was sent out last Thursday because he feels like people should be aware of the extent of the cuts and program closures; and I've posted the text of the entire email below.

Dear Rider alumni and friends,

As you know, we have spent the last 12 months celebrating the 150 year history of Rider University. The past century and a half has provided us with the traditions we hold dear today, and created a compelling rationale for me to return to New Jersey and join the University community this past summer as Rider’s seventh president. As we conclude our year-long retrospective, we have begun to take a long look to our future and the key elements that will be required to ensure Rider’s success going forward.

In recent years, Rider, as with many private universities, has had to face some tough realities regarding our enrollment and financial challenges and the increasingly competitive higher education landscape. Rider’s full-time undergraduate enrollment has declined by more than 360 students over the last six years, and our graduate and part-time enrollments have also declined.

These enrollment declines have had a significant impact on our financial resources. We now face multi-million dollar deficits this year and in the next two fiscal years despite the almost $16 million in permanent budget and personnel cuts we implemented over the last six years.

It is clear from our competitive landscape and accepted student feedback that we must take steps now to make Rider more affordable and to address the quality of our academic and residential facilities that put us at a competitive disadvantage. We must also continue our work to offer academic programs and delivery methods that students increasingly seek. Not addressing these key strategic and operational challenges is simply not an option as our future enrollment success depends on us doing so, and doing so immediately.

As a result, earlier today we announced changes to our academic offerings as the next step in dealing head on with our challenges. These changes, which our Board of Trustees voted to support at its meeting yesterday, involve the closure of 14 academic programs and the move of three programs from majors to minors effective in the 2016-17 academic year. This will result in the layoff of 14 full-time faculty and the elimination of two clerical positions and five vacant faculty positions. Part-time faculty in those departments will not be rehired after the end of this academic year, and there will be some department consolidations.

Effective with the 2016-17 academic year, we are closing the following programs: Art and Art History, Advertising, American Studies, Business Education, Economics – B.A., French, Geosciences, German, Italian (minor), Marine Sciences, Organizational Leadership (graduate), Philosophy, Piano and Web Design. The programs moving from majors to minors are: Business Economics, Entrepreneurial Studies and Sociology.

We will do all we can to support and assist the students, faculty and staff who are directly affected by these changes. We reached out earlier today to impacted faculty and department chairpersons as the start of that process. We will provide outplacement and other services to each person over the course of this year to assist them in their transition.

We will also provide individualized support, beginning tomorrow, for impacted students. We are committed to offering the courses that will enable juniors and seniors to complete their degrees in their chosen majors. We will also work with freshmen and sophomores to make choices that are best for them – to evaluate their options and assist them in their academic decisions.

How did we arrive at this particular list of programs? In keeping with our student-centered mission, we sought to minimize the impact on students by closing or curtailing low enrolled programs, those programs with low market demand, and courses of study that are elective options in other degrees. Ultimately, the plan had to balance the needs of students, the impact on faculty and staff, and the need to achieve savings.

This is very difficult news to hear, I’m sure, and is certainly hard for me to deliver in my early months as Rider’s president.

We are at a critical juncture in Rider’s history as we face some tough realities regarding the University’s enrollment and financial challenges. As a consequence, we need to:

• Make Rider’s education more affordable to our students;
• Offer programs that meet regional workforce needs and are attractive to prospective student;
• Offer courses and programs with more flexible delivery methods; and
• Update both academic and residential facilities.

Rider, and higher education as a whole, needs to adapt to the changing climate particularly with a declining pool of college-age students. Program closures and other changes are one way of adapting as they allow institutions to focus resources on programs that have high student interest and demand and invest in new academic programs, more flexible delivery methods and campus facility improvements. These are critical to our ability to strengthen Rider’s enrollment, putting the University on a more progressive path.

I am confident that the program changes we are implementing will strengthen the future of this special institution and sustain the vibrant learning and living community for which Rider is known. This is a collective responsibility – one that must be true to our mission and 150-year history, that builds on our strengths and that acknowledges the commitment and dedication of our students and alumni.

Given the important place that Rider alumni, parents, and friends occupy within the University community, I felt it necessary to share our plans with you. If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts with me, please do not hesitate to contact me via email at With your continued involvement and support, I have no doubt Rider will advance successfully with an appreciation for our history but with our vision clearly focused on our next 150 years.


Gregory G. Dell'Omo, Ph.D.
President, Rider University

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