Image 01 Image 03

Academics Who Predicted Closure of Private Colleges Stand By Their Analysis

Academics Who Predicted Closure of Private Colleges Stand By Their Analysis

“Nearly every week brings the news of another college closing or looking to merge.”

Clayton M. Christensen and Michael B. Horn predicted that many private colleges would end up folding and if recent news is any indication, they were right.

They recently revisited the topic in a column for Inside Higher Ed:

Perilous Times

In New England, where we live, small private colleges have felt the chill of winter. Nearly every week brings the news of another college closing or looking to merge.

That’s brought renewed attention to the predictions we’ve made that a spate of colleges are likely to fail — meaning close, merge or be acquired, or declare bankruptcy — in the years ahead.

We’ve admittedly played with those predictions over time — from suggesting that 25 percent of colleges would fail in The New York Times in 2013 to one of us, Clay Christensen, making more casual predictions in front of audiences where he has said that 50 percent of colleges would fail. The predictions have predictably generated some animosity and rolling of eyes. But it’s also prompted some college and university presidents to tell us in public and private settings that they think the 50 percent failure prediction is conservative — that is, the number of failures will be far higher.

Either way, the varied responses bring to mind something Clay Christensen often tells his students: you might not like gravity, but gravity doesn’t care. Many colleges are in trouble. And they are not in trouble because we are saying so.

Nor are they in trouble primarily because of disruptive innovation. Many have mistaken our predictions for claims that online learning will be the most significant factor in sending colleges and universities to their ruin.

That’s understandable. We’ve made careers out of explaining the power of disruptive innovation — a type of innovation that improves over time as it enables a whole new group of people to consume a service that, thanks to technology and an innovative business model, is now more affordable, convenient and accessible than existing offerings.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


The facts behind this article are sad, but true. I think the actual numbers will be closer to 10% to 15% of private colleges closing, but even that number will leave a large cohort of faculty driving for Uber in order to survive.

The saddest part of this story is that nothing can be done to change the demographics of fewer students attending colleges in the near future. Foreign students might be attracted to make up some of the difference, but they are not usually drawn to these small private schools that are in the worst shape.

Another sad part of this story is that many colleges have made the situation worse. They have hired many more highly-paid administrators for useless, virtue-signaling positions like Diversity Officer and Title IX Compliance Officer. Small schools have generally held to student/faculty ratios of about 12 to 1, but their administrator/faculty ratios have soared.

Many small schools have further hurt themselves by abandoning their liberal arts programs to leftist politics. Why should a student major in the liberal arts if the instructors have stopped teaching students to think and stopped confronting them with ideas that the SJWs might find “offensive?” Look at places like Reed College, where the SJWs coerced the faculty to drop the classics in their introductory core course, and replace them with left-wing, feminist, and identity-politics indoctrination.

I predict that students will avoid the humanities and social studies areas that have been turned into leftist indoctrination camps. They will concentrate in the sciences, engineering, and math, and in the vocational and pre-vocational areas. Small liberal-arts colleges will have the hardest time attracting students in these areas, and they will be the most at risk.

    artichoke in reply to OldProf2. | April 9, 2019 at 8:52 pm

    Yup, I was suggesting son apply to Reed this year, because I had an aunt who went there always had a lot of respect for it. Saw what was happening with their signature core program, saw what was happening in Portland, forgot all about Reed.

    Maybe they’ll be happier without him, but they would definitely have been stronger academically with him.

There are over 2600 accredited degree-granting four-year colleges in the US. We could lose quite a few before anybody would notice.

Pay too much for useless courses and instructors that teach one subject per semester rather than the old norm of 3, charge too much because the government is guaranteeing the loan, and teach subject dumbed down so the affirmative action/diversity students can think themselves intelligent…leaving a useless, jobless graduate that can never become a meaningful alumni.

I am especially surprised to see that more so-called Catholic colleges have survived since 90% are no more Catholic than state universities. I have degrees from two Catholic colleges – Detroit and Dayton. I sent my children to Catholic high school but Catholic colleges weren’t a consideration.

It’s really a triple edged sword for some of these places. One, there are more total schools competing for fewer total students. The supply and demand issue is bad enough. Worse is the spiraling cost of a degree—-blame whoever you choose—-but the costs have outpaced inflation for so long that it has reached a point where students and parents are questioning the value of a degree where 25 years ago plus the value discussion was a non vocal minority of people. Then you have the fact that there are many majors that just aren’t going to lead to a job that will recoup the cost of education in a 15 plus year time horizon.

Take the SJW crap out of the equation, and you still have an issue where colleges will be closing the doors unless they have built an endowment and donor base to keep them afloat when the next 20 years of crunch time hit.