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Riding the Fifth Wave in Higher Education

A Survival Guide for the New Normal

James Ottavio Castagnera

The Fifth Wave in higher education is breaking on American shores. Unlike the four waves that preceded it from colonial times through the post-WWII mega-versity expansion, this wave is disrupting all sectors of the higher education industry. It will sweep away those institutions—be they public, private non-profit, or for-profit—that fail to recognize and meet the threat. Harvard professor Clay Christensen, the father of "disruptive innovation," predicts that as many as half of all American universities will close or go bankrupt within the next 10 to 15 years (See Inside Higher Ed, April 28, 2017).

Riding the Fifth Wave in Higher Education: A Survival Guide for the New Normal charts the dimensions of the Fifth Wave challenge and offers numerous general and specific suggestions for surfing the wave and surviving its tsunami-like impact. Part One of this concise handbook explains why our industry is in treacherous waters and outlines the impact of the Fifth Wave to date on all three major sectors of American higher ed. Part Two offers a range of practical responses, including ways we might break out of the tuition-discount "death spiral" and the facilities "arms race," as well as identifying our prospects for removing the albatross of onerous federal regulations from around our necks before it drags us under. If you have time to read only one book about today’s crisis in American higher education, Riding the Fifth Wave in Higher Education is the right choice. If you plan to research the topic in depth, Riding the Fifth Wave in Higher Education is the perfect place to start.

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Chapter 1. The Five Great Waves: An Overview

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THE FIVE GREAT WAVES

An Overview

Four distinct epochs or waves can be discerned in the history of higher education. This chapter argues that a fifth wave, perhaps the most revolutionary of all, is currently cresting, posing a unique challenge to higher education administrators and faculty. The four previous waves can be summarized briefly as follows:

• In the 85 years between the Declaration of Independence and the Civil War, some 800 liberal arts colleges sprang up across the United States. My own alma maters are typical. Franklin & Marshall College owes half its name to a modest amount of seed money donated by the great Benjamin Franklin in 1787. Case Western Reserve University first saw the light of learning as Western Reserve Academy. “The undergraduate college took…the essential step necessary for a broad education for general citizenship.…These institutions were of a size and scale that could be created by a group of private individuals—not requiring great fortunes or state support” (Cox, p. 14).

• The end of the Civil War until the turn of the last century was the era of the great land-grant institutions. This expansion of higher education led to the first shakeout. “By 1900, only 180 of those first 800 small colleges remained active; larger, subsidized state universities consumed ← 5 | 6 → market share by offering more educational services, subsidized prices, and often more pragmatic and career-oriented curricula” (Cox, p. 14)...

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