In his Opening Fall Convocation, one week after Hurricane Irene, President Rozanski said that Rider is weathering the recession through innovation, hard work and student-centered strategic planning.
Sean Ramsden
President Mordechai Rozanski

President Mordechai Rozanski

Even as the University continues to face challenges posed by the lingering effects of a stalled economy, President Mordechai Rozanski said the beginning of the 2011-12 academic year offers the Rider community much to celebrate, with even more to look forward to.

“Our university has enjoyed success over the last number of years – with its academic quality, its faculty, staff and student successes, with its recruitment of talented faculty, staff and administrators, with its enrollment, finances and fundraising, and with its facilities renewal,” said Rozanski, who delivered his annual Opening Fall Convocation on September 1 in the Yvonne Theater. “As our forthcoming Periodic Review Report for Middle States will demonstrate, we have met most of our strategic plan goals.”

Rozanski began the Convocation with a note of gratitude, thanking the University community for its part in helping Rider weather the effects of Hurricane Irene over the last few days of August. As if to declare triumph over the storm, he then rolled a video featuring a 1982 performance of Goodnight, Irene, by Eric Clapton, eliciting surprised enjoyment from the audience of administrators, faculty and staff.

With a lighthearted mood established, Rozanski segued into a review of recent student achievements through the spring 2011 semester, including the U.S. Student Fulbright award for Norma Lamo ’11, Rider’s fifth in the last six years, the naming of Angela DiFranco ’11 as a Distinguished Student Teacher of the Year, the three first-place video production awards won by the Rider chapter of the National Broadcasting Society, and a choral composition by Thomas LaVoy ’13 premiered by the New York Virtuoso Singers, among many other student triumphs.

“These successes demonstrate the quality of a Rider education and its tangible teaching, learning, scholarly and creative outcomes,” said Rozanski, who also highlighted the academic successes of Rider’s student-athletes.

Rider’s four- and six-year graduation rates are also strong, said Rozanski, who showed a graph revealing that the University’s rates for both outpace other private, nonprofit institutions nationally, and far exceed the graduation rates of national public universities.

“Much of the credit for this can be attributed to better support for our students by faculty in the academic advisement process, expanded summer and January intercession options that allow a student to stay academically engaged year-round, expanding the full-time flat fee tuition to 18 credits and better retention,” he explained.

Rozanski also cited the award-winning achievements of the Rider faculty, including two new Fulbright recipients, and a number of professors who have earned substantial research or program grants. (See below for more examples of student and faculty achievements.)

“Science alone has garnered more than $5.1 million in grants over the last 10 years,” he said.

Naturally, a successful university will grow in size, and Rider has seen substantial progress with regard to academic facilities on both its campuses, according to Rozanski, who highlighted the $12.9 million New Academic Building and Bart Luedeke Center Theater expansion project. Both the New Academic Building – known for now as North Hall – and the Performing Arts addition to the BLC Theater were dedicated in concert with Cranberry Fest on September 13.

The most visible new construction project, North Hall features nine classrooms, two seminar rooms, 16 faculty offices and a multipurpose conference room, and is fronted by the Kaplan Plaza community space, also dedicated on September 13. The Performing Arts addition, which augments the existing BLC Theater facility, includes an enhanced stage area, dressing rooms, a green room, a rehearsal room and a set shop, as well as improved set-changing capabilities for performing arts productions. Eight additional buildings on both campuses also benefited from various renovation projects during the summer.

Rozanski also pointed to the various technological improvements throughout both campuses, including the progress with the Banner computer system implementation, the upgrade to Blackboard, the learning management system, which will soon feature mobile access, as well as a wireless network upgrade to be completed by the end of the fall semester, and the addition of new computers and instructional technology.

Turning to enrollment, Rozanski explained that, so far, 1,261 new students enrolled for this semester on both campuses.

“This is consistent with new student enrollment over the past three years. New student enrollment has increased by 18 percent since fall 2004, when we enrolled 1,073,” Rozanski said, explaining that while freshmen application and enrollment activity were slightly down this year, as expected, transfer enrollment was very strong. “We have exceeded our transfer goal by 35 students and are enrolling 50 more transfers this year, compared to fall 2010.

Rozanski added that while Westminster Choir College fell slightly short of its undergraduate enrollment goal, its incoming class of graduate students was up 10 students from last year’s group of 50, bringing the overall total close to goal.

Naturally, one subject of concern to any student is that of tuition aid, and Rozanski said that Rider’s commitment to affordability remains strong in spite of the lagging economy. This year, the University will spend $44.5 million in operating revenues for financial aid, compared to $24.5 million in 2004. 

“While this sounds like a lot of money – and it is – we keep our spending in check and spend reasonably compared to our private institution peers,” he said, adding that Rider’s freshman tuition discount rate is 39.7 percent, compared to the national average of 42.4 percent.

“We remain committed to awarding competitive scholarships, supporting financial need, and maintaining a responsibility to the institutional budget,” he continued. “This shift of scholarship support to Rider’s operating budget is an ongoing trend. We are committed to strong scholarship support, both because it is the right thing to do for our students and because we need to do it to remain attractive in a highly competitive market.”

Rozanski said the University was also forced to contend with a surprising, eleventh-hour cut in Tuition Aid Grants (TAG) by the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) in August that produced a 26.5 percent decrease in funding available to TAG recipients at the state’s private colleges. The cuts, which amount to a $743,000 loss to 520 Rider students, came on the heels of last year’s $500,000 decrease in TAG funding.

In response to the last-minute TAG cuts, Rozanski and representatives from the state’s 13 other private institutions hosted a meeting at Rider with Rochelle Hendricks, the new state secretary of Higher Education, on August 4 to illustrate just how dire the situation had become for our needy students.

Following meetings with some of the highest-ranking members of the governor’s staff, Rozanski reported that HESAA agreed to consider restoring some, or most of the cuts at its late fall board meeting,

Rozanski said that TAG awards for the spring semester will be known by November. In the meantime, Financial Aid staff members are meeting with students to discuss various funding options, which include a fund for hardship appeals, increased loans and an interest-free, University-based bill payment program.

As far as its response to the challenges of the economy and state cuts in funding support, Rozanski indicated that Rider continues its innovative efforts to generate new revenue through new programs and auxiliary activities. Additionally, Rider will expand recruitment into new domestic and international markets, and particularly in such states as California, Virginia and Maryland, which are not experiencing the demographic decline projected for the northeast states. And the University is developing a new branding campaign focusing on Rider as a school of choice.

Academic programs up and running for the fall 2011 semester were also highlighted by Rozanski, including the new master’s in Applied Psychology, a new Advertising major, and minors in Sustainability and Special Education. He also previewed several programs under discussion for next fall, such as a minor in Homeland Security and a master’s in Business Communications.

Rozanski briefly reviewed the University’s fundraising results, mentioning that total gifts and pledges were up by 43 percent in fiscal year 2011. He also made particular note of the record-breaking Senior Class Gift, and that parents’ giving increased by 77 percent last year.

“It shows that parents value what you do in our classroom facilities,” Rozanski said to the gathered faculty.

The state of the University and the challenges it faces having been addressed, Rozanski ended with an upbeat note about Rider’s situation.

“Despite the challenges we face, the state of Rider University is sound as is our future. We have the people, the will and the know-how to succeed, by which I mean, to plan effectively, to innovate and to accomplish our goals by working together,” he said. “It is therefore with pride that I repeat what I’ve said before: given the environment, I’d rather be at Rider right now than anywhere else.”

Recent Student Achievements Highlighted at the Opening Fall Convocation

■       Environmental Science major Nina Joffe ’12: fellowship from Merck Undergraduate Science Endeavors Program

■       2011 Model U.N. team: Outstanding Position Paper and Outstanding Delegation (3rd consecutive year)

■       Communication: Three video productions won 1st place at National Broadcasting Society’s Electronic Media Competition

■       Rider’s Small Business Institute: graduate team won 2nd place; undergrad team won 3rd in Consulting Project of the Year competition

■       Pre-med and Spanish minor Tanique Adams ’13: Gilman scholarship to study at Nebrija University in Spain

■       Music Theater major Emily Marsilia ’12 principal role in production on new Disney cruise ship

■       WCC theory and composition major Thomas LaVoy ’13: Choral composition, White Stones, premiered by New York Virtuoso Singers

■       Elementary Education/Psychology major Angela DiFranco ’11:  2011 Distinguished Student Teacher of Year

■       Journalism major Rachel Gouk ’11: photo intern with the Philadelphia Daily News

■       Westminster teaching major Chad Keilman ’11: edited two volumes in the online journal Visions of Research in Music Education

■       Biology major Yuliya Labko ’12: Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society

■       Management major Norma Lamo ’11: received Fulbright; 5th Rider award in 6 years

■       GLASS, Terik Miller ’15: Herbert Lehman Scholarship (National NAACP)

Student-Athlete Achievements Highlighted at the Opening Fall Convocation

■       Conference champions: Men’s outdoor track (first-ever), Field hockey (4th tourney; 5th regular season)

■       Conference MVPs: Wrestling, field hockey, men’s track, women’s diving

■       National athletic recognition: Amanda Burke ’10 qualified for US Olympic trials and won national 1-meter title

■       MAAC Commissioner’s Cup: Men finished 2nd for second year in a row

■       MAAC academic honor roll: 139 student-athletes honored, the highest number in recent history

■       National academic recognition: Mike Soroko ’11 and Greg Wesh ’13 named to USTFCCCA Division I All Academic Track & Field Team

Faculty Excellence Highlighted at the Opening Fall Convocation

■       Accounting Department, first New Jersey member of the Internal Auditing Education Partnership

■       Dr. Donald Ambrose, Graduate Education, keynote at International Center for Innovation in Education (ICIE) conference in Istanbul; awarded the ICIE Creativity Award

■       Dr. Hope Corman, Economics, Economics Erskine Fellow at Canterbury University, New Zealand

■       Dr. David Dewberry, Communication and Journalism, with co-author won Top Paper award from the Freedom of Expression Division at National Communication Association convention

■       Dr. Chrystina Dolyniuk, Psychology, Fulbright, Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine*

■       Dr. Diane Giannola, Teacher Education, Nasim Dil Award for Outstanding Services to Teacher Education from Council for Exceptional Children

■       Dr. Jonathan Husch, Chair of GEMS, appointed to New Jersey Department of the Environment Science Advisory Board

■       Dr. Sharon Morrow, Music Education, Outstanding Dissertation Award from Council of Research in Music Education

■       Dr. Frank Rusciano, Political Sciences and Global Multinational Studies, Fulbright – University of Ulster Policy Studies Award (19 of our faculty have been Fulbright scholars)

Recent Faculty Grants Highlighted at the Opening Fall Convocation

■       Dr. Bill Amadio: $150,000, Department of Justice (for computer forensics)

■       Dr. Kelly Bidle: $394,729, NSF (for the characterization of cryptic cyrcadian rhythms in the haloarchaeon Haloferax volcanii)

■       Dr. Dan Druckenbrod: $13,000, Bristol Myers-Squibb (forest dynamics and climate change in New Jersey)

■       Dr. Sigfredo Hernandez (MOB): $7,500, Prudential Foundation; $43,000, Walmart Foundation; $15,000, Princeton Area Community (2-year)

■       School of Education/Hamilton Public Schools: $13,500 (Rider’s), NJ DOE

■       Dr. Evelyn McDowell: $10,000, Nellie Mae Foundation (to encourage minority students to pursue accounting)

■       Drs. Hongbing Sun, Feng Chen, Jonathan Husch, Laura Hyatt, and Reed Schwimmer: $100,207, NSF (for equipment)

■       Talbott Library: $6,000, NEH (for preservation assistance)

■       Dean Boris Vilic: $185,000, NJ Commission on Higher Education (to reengage students for degree completion)

■       Dr. Todd Weber: $195,194, NIH (for the effect of chemotherapeutic drugs on neurogenesis in adult mouse hippocampus)

■       Westminster Conservatory: $29,400, PNC Foundation (for the Early Childhood music program)