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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 9. Some Real-World Solutions


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For more than two decades, I have been the Associate Provost and Legal Counsel for Academic Affairs at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. During my most recent year there, I was a member of the leadership team grappling with an existential financial crisis, along the lines of those outlined in Chapter Five. Rider’s 150-plus years span all but the first wave in the history of American higher education. Its history also subsumes two of the three sectors of higher education into which I delved in detail in Part One: the for-profit and the not-for-profit private sectors. And, most importantly, in my most-proximate years at Rider, I was a witness to a Fifth-Wave financial crisis representative of the mega-crisis shaking the foundations of American higher education…and a participant in Rider’s efforts to meet the challenge.

Rider is in its deepest roots an example of entrepreneurship at the end of the American Civil War. Henry Bryant, Henry Stratton, and William Whitney founded the Trenton Business College on October 2, 1865, in anticipation of the interest of returning veterans in a business education. In that motivation for its founding, Rider prefigures the Fourth-Wave surge in higher education aimed at meeting the needs of returning veterans of World War II exactly 80 years later. Indeed, Bryant and Stratton had been engaged since 1853 in building the chain of for-profit business schools that survives to this very day in...

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