Federal funding just a stop-gap for budget windfalls

By Stephen Neukam

Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo said that funding from the federal stimulus packages would offset only one-third of the university’s lost revenue from the pandemic and zeroed in on other national initiatives that he would throw support behind, in an interview with The Rider News on April 13.

Between the three stimulus bills, the university is expected to receive a total of $18.7 million, according to Dell’Omo. Just $10.3 million will be available to the university, while the rest was designated for students.

The $10.3 million will only sop up some of the $30 million in lost revenue due to the pandemic, according to Dell’Omo.

The deficit is one that schools all around the country are facing, with hopes to recoup losses with increased normalcy in operation in the fall semester — a plan Rider is counting on.

Dell’Omo said that under President Joe Biden there has been more flexibility on how the university can utilize the federal funds it has received.

The American Rescue Plan, the most recent stimulus package passed under the Biden administration, will provide Rider with an estimated $9.6 million, according to Dell’Omo. Half of that must be distributed to students.

National initiatives

With a new administration in Washington, Dell’Omo said that universities will begin to push for a number of public policy goals to aid higher education. In particular, he stressed the importance of the expansion of federal Pell Grants.

“[It] would be a significant enhancement for the affordability and accessibility to higher education for lower-income individuals,” said Dell’Omo. “That would be a big boost.”

Dell’Omo also said that universities would turn their attention to the massive infrastructure bill that the Biden administration is attempting to put together, with an initial price tag of $2 trillion. The university president said that while some community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities are included in the proposal, other institutions aren’t.

“I think there will be a lot more discussion over those kinds of things to see if we can really broaden the access to some infrastructure needs,” said Dell’Omo. “Could we open that up to a little bit broader spreading of that wealth?”

Dell’Omo also touched on the push for student loan forgiveness, saying he prefers to use federal Pell Grants to make education more affordable for students because of the complexities of student debt forgiveness.

A hope for the fall semester

The university is continuing its plans for a more normal fall semester, with Dell’Omo cautiously optimistic that the worrying coronavirus numbers nationwide will subside and allow the school the opportunity to return to business as usual.

Enrollment numbers are down from last year, with undergraduate applications down 5% and deposits down 8%. Transfer applications are also down 12%, according to Dell’Omo.

Dell’Omo said that many prospective students want to have a regular college experience while also balancing safety needs. He hopes that by July, the school will have a definitive idea of whether it can proceed with a normal semester.

“But if things require an adjustment, we have to, probably in the middle of July really, make a decision,” said Dell’Omo.

As vaccines become more widely available, the university is hoping to offer students, staff and faculty the ability to get vaccinated on campus. Dell’Omo said that a survey of the community found that there was “a lot of interest” in getting vaccinated on campus.

The challenge, Dell’Omo said, is the supply of vaccines. The partner that the administration is working with to make the immunizations available on campus would use the Moderna two-shot vaccine. The president said he hoped the school could make an announcement in the next few weeks.

“This is your Great Depression”

Reflecting on the past year and a half, Dell’Omo said that he felt like the pandemic was this generation of college students’ Great Depression. In all, he said he’s been impressed with the resiliency and responsibility of the student body.

“You can hang your heads high and say that at Rider, we dealt with this very, very effectively,” said Dell’Omo. “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished and how we got through it.”

With both the class of 2021 and 2020 expected to be on campus for commencement ceremonies on May 15 and 16, Dell’Omo said that he was excited for the “more intimate” graduations on the Lawrenceville campus.

“Even though it’s going to be shorter events — not all the pomp and circumstance — I think it is going to be an acknowledgment that we are together as a family,” said Dell’Omo. “And that’s going to be special.”

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