Planet Princeton

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.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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