Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, has decided to sell nearby Westminster Choir College, which the university first acquired in 1992, according to a recent report in Inside Higher Ed.

Rider had previously explored moving the choir and music college, which is located 7 miles away in Princeton, to Lawrenceville as a cost-cutting measure. However, the plan was protested by Westminster students and alumni, who wished to remain at the Princeton campus. Coupled with the potential expense of moving Westminster’s equipment and building an acoustically appropriate facility, these protests resulted in an unusual decision to find a buyer rather than move the school. 

Nonprofit institutions of higher education rarely buy colleges, instead acquiring programs and facilities through mergers and affiliations. This trend can also be found in theological education, where there has been an increasing number of mergers and partnerships in recent years. The Rider/Westminster situation is different -- the merger seemed to work for 20 years, but then ran its course.

The implications for theological schools are grave. Down the road, will merged institutions want to end their partnerships, either by selling or otherwise cutting ties? As schools continue to seek ways to remain financially viable, they may begin turning to institutions, like Rider, that are initially enthusiastic but whose interest in running a theological school may wane over time.

How does the situation at Rider affect your thinking about seminary-university mergers? Do you see the merger trend continuing, or do you think schools will begin selling off previously-acquired programs?

To read more about the circumstances surrounding the sale of the choir college, read Inside Higher Ed’s article, “Selling off a college.”

Image: Westminster Choir College’s Williamson Hall. Photo by YorkshireRailman