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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 4. The Decline and Crippling of For-Profit Higher Education


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The fortunes of for-profit higher education rise and fall with the political tides. During the eight years of the Bush administration, this sector of the industry prospered.

In September 2004, as President George Bush’s reelection campaign shifted into high gear, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that his plans for higher education in his anticipated second term included “relax[ing] certain rules that for-profit colleges must follow to participate in the federal student-aid programs.” The September 7th article added, “According to a document released by the president’s re-election campaign late Thursday night, Mr. Bush’s higher-education proposals for a second term focus on eliminating restrictions that prevent adult and part-time students from receiving federal grants and loans” (Burd).

Four years, one Great Recession, and one historic substitution of a black Democrat for a WASP Republican in the White House, and a sea change in federal policy was in the offing. Two tidal forces surged out of Washington to whipsaw the for-profit side of our industry simultaneously. The first of these powerful political forces was a new set of proposed regulations from the Department of Education (DOE), aimed at punishing for-profit education ← 43 | 44 → providers, who fell short of their statutory mandate of graduating students qualified for “gainful employment.” By the time the sun set on the Obama presidency at the close of 2016, two major players in...

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