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Rider Plans to Sell Westminster to Chinese Company

February 22, 2018
 
 

Rider University intends to sell Westminster Choir College to a Chinese company that owns K-12 schools in Beijing -- an unusual move that would keep Westminster on its campus in Princeton, N.J., but also confirms faculty fears that the buyer is a foreign for-profit entity.

Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co. and Rider have finalized a nonbinding term sheet, the university said today. The sale would transfer Westminster Choir College, Westminster Conservatory of Music and Westminster Continuing Education to a company based in China that owns two K-12 international schools in Beijing called the Kaiwen Academies.

Rider will receive $40 million in exchange for Westminster’s campus in Princeton, its facilities and its programs. The deal would also include the transfer of Westminster’s endowment, valued at roughly $19 million, from Rider to Kaiwen.

The unusual move caps more than a year of acrimony between Westminster’s backers and Rider’s administration. Facing financial difficulties, Rider considered moving Westminster from Princeton to its main campus in Lawrenceville, N.J., but faculty members, students and alumni fought the idea. Instead, Rider leaders decided to try to sell the choir college, setting off months of public jockeying and court challenges as faculty members and other Westminster boosters recoiled at details, including notices warning of layoffs if the college cannot be sold. A dispute over the layoff notices is expected to go to arbitration next month.

Kaiwen expects to make employment offers to Rider faculty and staff members, but terms are not yet determined. Rider administrators said many details of the deal are confidential and they will release more information as a binding agreement is inked.

Rider administrators say they reached out to about 280 institutions in hopes of finding a pool of interested buyers for Westminster. No U.S. university showed interest in purchasing Westminster and keeping it in Princeton, said Rider President Gregory G. Dell’Omo. One U.S. university was interested in acquiring Westminster and transferring operations away from Princeton, and six or seven international institutions were interested in a purchase involving keeping portions of Westminster on its campus.

Rider and its board chose Kaiwen because it has the most comprehensive plan for Westminster and wants to invest in its growth, Dell’Omo said.

“This is a healthy move for preserving Westminster Choir College and hopefully investing in the future,” he said. “We gave it our best shot for 25 years and felt we did a very good job, but it just is difficult moving forward.”

Westminster merged into Rider in the early 1990s, when the choir college faced financial challenges. At the time, Rider was in a strong financial position.

No firm timeline is in place for signing a binding agreement, Dell’Omo said. He hopes for some time in the spring. The nonbinding term sheet that has been signed contains some language on how long Westminster must be operated in Princeton, but Dell’Omo said he was unable to share details.

Kaiwen plans to operate Westminster as a nonprofit entity, according to Dell’Omo. It will have to seek accreditation and licensure in New Jersey. The company has hired two consultants to help with that process.

The company does not have experience operating a higher ed institution -- or a college or university in the United States. But it does have experience running educational operations with themes of sports and the performing arts through its K-12 academies, Dell’Omo said.

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