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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 5. The Decline of Not-for-Profit Higher Education


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Clearly, the title of this chapter demands an immediate clarification in the nature of a narrowing. Not all nonprofit colleges and universities are in trouble. The Ivy League, most Research-One universities, and many elite, well-endowed liberal arts colleges are just fine, thank you.

But many more private colleges and universities are in trouble. In the Fall of 2016, more than 40 percent of nonprofit colleges and universities fell short of their enrollment goals, this despite an average 48 percent tuition discount rate (Hoover and Lipka). For many of the 2,300 private, nonprofit colleges and universities, which are in this circumstance, such a state of affairs might seem unsustainable. However, it’s mighty hard to put a college out of business, as the following case studies—one old and one new—amply illustrate:

Case Study One: Hiwassee College

Hiwassee College links its early history very closely to the founding in 1826 of Tullagalla Academy, a school for boys, located in the Fork Creek Community some five miles from the site of college’s present Tennessee campus. At about that time, a group of Methodist settlers set aside land near a fresh spring for a camp meeting that eventually came to be called the Bat Creek Campground. ← 69 | 70 → Gradually, according to the college’s website, a church and other structures were erected and used by believers who assembled annually for “camp meeting...

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