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Riverside is dropping military from its name. This is how some alumni are reacting
1006 2022 Riverside
Military students at Riverside Preparatory Academy are seen at the school on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. The school recently changed its name from Riverside Military Academy.

Riverside Military Academy is rebranding itself in an effort to increase its internet visibility and boost student enrollment — but not everyone is happy about the change. 

The private all-boys military boarding school in Gainesville will now be called Riverside Preparatory Academy, following a consultation with a national marketing firm that specializes in private schools.

The school has seen a decline in enrollment since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before, it enrolled about 500 cadets. Now, that number is closer to 220, though it is expected to rise to about 300 by the end of the year. 

Most of the decline is due to fewer international students enrolling after the pandemic upended travel and made it more difficult for would-be students to obtain visas, Riverside President Stanley Preczewski said. Most of their international students came from China, he added. 

Economic factors also play a role. With inflation at a 40-year high, it seems that fewer parents are willing to fork over the $48,900 in tuition, and the cost is even higher for international students at $56,600. 

But not everyone is on board with the rebranding. 

Robert Lindsey, a 1980 graduate of the academy, is “so disgusted” by the name change that he resigned from the Alumni Council hours before the announcement was made public on Tuesday. 

He wrote over email that Riverside has given in to “Woke pressure.” 

“It's just a way of brushing off and skirting the fact that they're a traditional military academy,” he explained in an interview with The Times. “That's what's got most of the alumni really ticked, it’s a complete sell out of the tradition of the school.” 

Lindsey also claimed that the decision was made without ample input from alumni. 

Preczewski disagreed on both counts, and he was at pains to dispel the idea that the decision was made from the top down without the involvement of stakeholders.

“It ticks me off, frankly, that people don’t really think things through,” he said. “They just take a knee-jerk reaction to a process that’s been going on here for over seven months.” 

In April, Riverside hired EdwardsCo, a marketing firm that specializes in private schools. 

“Parents, owners, alumni, Board of Visitors, Board of Trustees, cadets, staff … were surveyed and interviewed, and we came up with the results,” he added. 

The name change is aimed primarily at improving the school’s internet visibility and getting more feet in the door, Preczewski said. The hope is that by replacing “military” with “preparatory,” more people will come across the school in their internet searches and consider enrolling.

“We’re finding that people aren’t clicking on the word military,” he said. “So if you do a search for military academies, those clicks are down. And if you do a search for preparatory schools, we don’t come up until way, way, way down.”

The change also reflects changing attitudes about the military. 

“We’ve got a new society that’s interested in different things, and the term ‘military’ isn’t quite so popular anymore,” said Foster Bachschmidt, 2006 alumni and member of the Board of Trustees. 

The news comes after the Army announced last week that it fell short of its recruitment goal by 25% this year — about 15,000 soldiers. 

From a marketing perspective, changes include a new website URL reflecting the new name, and a redesigned logo will be released in November. 

But beyond marketing, Preczewski said, “nothing is changing.”

Cadets who graduate will still receive rings and diplomas that say Riverside Military Academy, and that will remain the institution's legal name. The military traditions and garb and signage inside the school will also remain. Now, however, the name more accurately reflects the path cadets end up taking after graduating, with some 95% of Riverside’s graduates going off to college, not the military. 

“We are, in fact, and always have been a preparatory school that puts kids in college, and we use the military model to do that,” Preczewski said. 

He added that there is nothing misleading about calling Riverside a preparatory school while retaining its military focus. 

“It’s not a bait and switch because we’re not hiding the fact that we’re military,” he said. “As soon as you click on our website … you’re going to see images like you see now.” 

He said the change had nothing to do with the lawsuit the school settled last year in which a cadet claimed he was physically and sexually abused by other cadets. 

Mac McLendon, a 1958 alumni and a member of the Board of Visitors, said he was surprised by the change but believes Riverside is doing what’s best for recruitment while maintaining its traditions. 

“I don’t consider it a sell out at all,” he said “You’ve got an excellent facility, but you’ve to get them there first.” 

“All in all, I think it’s going to be a plus, but we won’t know for a year or two,” he said.

1005 2022 Riverside
Riverside Military Academy recently changed its name to Riverside Preparatory Academy. Above, military students are pictured at the school on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. - photo by Natalae LaDouceur