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Beijing firm slated to buy Westminster Choir College for $40 million

Just a day after Princeton Theological Seminary announced that it has filed a lawsuit to stop the sale of Westminster Choir College, Rider University has finally revealed the potential purchaser of the school, a Chinese firm based in Beijing that runs private K-12 schools.

The company, Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co., Ltd., which has no experience operating an institution of higher education, will pay Rider University $40 million. Kaiwen Education was called “Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Co” until December of 2017. The company has only been operating schools since 2016.

Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology owns the Kaiwen Academies, two  K-12 international schools in Beijing. The Kaiwen Academies focus on arts education and sports training, an American teaching structure, and a combination of Chinese and American curricula. Kaiwen is a publicly traded company in China.

Rider plans to transfer ownership of Westminster Choir College, Westminster Conservatory of Music, and Westminster Continuing Education to the company as part of the sale.

“This is the beginning of an exciting new era for Westminster Choir College, its faculty, staff and students,” said Gregory Dell’Omo, president of Rider University. “Kaiwen Education put forth an impressive proposal rooted in their sincere interest in the Westminster brand and in keeping the institution as a part of the Princeton community. We are eager to continue collaborating with Kaiwen Education to develop a binding agreement, the next step in this process.”

In 2017, Rider’s Board of Trustees selected Kaiwen Education to acquire Westminster and maintain the campus in Princeton. The University has worked with Kaiwen Education and outside consultants to negotiate a non-binding term sheet that was acceptable to both parties, officials said.

“From the very beginning, the Board has remained deeply committed to our guiding principles, including a desire to find a partner who would preserve and enhance the Westminster brand, mission and history,” said Robert Schimek, chairman of Rider’s Board of Trustees. “The completion of the term sheet is a definitive sign of progress and a clear declaration that Westminster will continue operating in Princeton.”

Kaiwen Education has hired two consultants recommended by Westminster to provide assistance in the next stages of this process. Catherine Jarjisian, an accreditation consultant who is retired from a career in music education and administration, will lead and coordinate efforts to obtain accreditation with the National Association of Schools of Music, the accreditation body charged with maintaining national standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees and other credentials for music and music-related disciplines.

Larry Livingston, currently the chair of the Department of Conducting at the University of Southern California’s Flora L. Thornton School of Music, will serve as the project manager and liaison to guide this process, school officials said. He will also work with Westminster and Kaiwen Education to assure they receive all necessary regulatory approvals such as state licensure, accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and federal recognition. Livingston has a distinguished career including roles as the vice president and music director of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston; dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston and dean of the USC Thornton School of Music where he is now chair.

Plans are currently being finalized to bring representatives from Kaiwen Education, as well as Livingston and Jarjisian, to campus in the near future to meet the Westminster community, school officials said.

Dell’Omo said the $40 million will allow for Rider to invest in many priorities outlined in its recently adopted strategic plan. It will also allow the university to offset some of the losses incurred in operating Westminster since 1992, he said.

Details of the term sheet remain confidential. However, Kaiwen Education intends to make offers of employment to faculty and staff, with terms to be determined, as well as continue committed student aid at the time of closing in the form of endowed scholarships, tuition discounts and other grant obligations, school officials said. More information will be forthcoming as the entities finalize a binding agreement.

Dell’Omo said the purchase price is indicative that the partner has the resources to invest in Westminster and is committed to its long-term viability. “They are well positioned to continue the significant investment in Westminster that Rider has made over the past 25 years,” he said.

Please share your thoughts on this story.

15 comments
  • Chinese Bridge Steel Structure Company? Maybe Princeton will become New Pittsburgh. More likely, New Beijing. They can rename the Dinky “The Mini Shanghai Express”.

  • One has to wonder if the non-profit entity would be able to funnel the endowment to the for-profit part through contracts. Once the endowment is gone, the college could be forced to closed and then the company could use the land for another for-profit purpose. From the news reports, it sounds like there is only a $2 million penalty if they shut down the choir college. It is an outrage that Rider is doing this and the local government is doing nothing about it.

  • According to Google Translate, it means “Kai asks”. Other sites say it means “enlightenment” or the name “Kevin”. Guss these are different dialects.

  • I am not trying to be harsh. When 90+% of the content (in stories from this another other outlets) is taken from the Rider press releases, it doesn’t seem like there is a desire to dig any deeper. I would dearly love to be proven wrong.

  • I think the “doesn’t seem to be much interest” comment is too harsh. The very fact that this story was published shows that the author is interested. Silence on this issue is what Rider would want.

  • There must somehow be a net benefit to the owners of the Chinese company—I’d guess about $40 million—and so the NJ attorney general should oppose.

  • Agreed. The majority of reporting is just advancement of the Rider narrative. There doesn’t seem to be much interest in what’s behind this unprecedented transaction.

  • Here’s how the events unfolded:

    12/6/2016 Rider University announces it is considering sale of Westminster Choir College.

    12/23/2016 Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure announces plans to acquire 20% stake in education investment firm.

    2/16/2017 Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure announces plans for education firm acquisition and two educational firms establishment.

    3/28/2017 Rider University confirms it will not move Westminster Choir College to Lawrenceville campus. Now seeking buyers with the assistance of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Chair of Rider board of trustees is a retired PwC partner.

    5/4/2017 Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure completes establishment of educational tech JV in Beijing with partners, and owns 20 percent stake in it.

    7/11/2017 Rider University announces it is reviewing offers from buyers for Westminster Choir College.

    7/27/2017 Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure’s share trade to halt from July 28 pending announcement related to asset restructuring.

    8/17/2017 Rider University’s board votes to accept an offer to buy Westminster Choir College. Buyer to remain anonymous and offer confidential.

    9/8/2017 Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure to sell engineering unit, share trade to resume.

    10/31/2017 Rider University issues layoff notices to all Westminster Choir College personnel. All contracts will expire summer 2018, including all unionized faculty in local AAUP chapter.

    12/11/2017 Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure’s unit to buy stake in education investment firm.

    12/28/2017 Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure to change company name to Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology.

    2/21/2018 Rider University announces Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology as buyer of Westminster Choir College.

    2/21/2018 Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology To Invest $40 Mln To Buy Three Colleges From Rider University.

  • It is a for-profit entity traded on the market. It has been put forth by Rider that WCC would be run under a non-profit branch of this corporation, which does not yet exist and for which they would need to obtain US approval.

  • If Westminster Choir College is organized as a 501(c)3 charitable (educational) organization, presumably its assets would have to go to a similar non-profit entity. That’s the legal basis for tax-deductible donations to the College over the period of its existence. It’s unclear if the Chinese group is a non-profit entity, and if not, just how will this sale go through?

  • I am told that “Kaiwen” means ‘money laundry’ in Chinese. Think of the possibilities: “A dean for every student, a house for every dean”. This could be the start of something big…

  • I believe the author is merely repeating the language from Rider’s press release.

  • The language of the author shows clear bias. “Larry Livingston [will] guide this process to a successful conclusion.”

  • The Kaiwen academy schools appear to be very new. The main Kaiwen academy appears to have been started in Fall 2016 and the Manchester United Soccer Academy with Kaiwen was started this past fall. The company was primarily a steel and engineering company until last year when it sold its engineering unit.

    One just has to be very dubious of this company. It sounds like the Montana power company that tried to become an internet company in the middle of the dot-com boom and then collapse. One has to wonder if this is a way to move assets out of China.

    I hope the Seminary keeps up the pressure with its lawsuit. It’s hard to see that this company is a legitimate educational organization.

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