“Half of all U.S. colleges to close or go bankrupt in the next decade”

That’s the gloomy prediction of disruption guru Clayton Christensen

And, it’s not just the tidal wave of online programs or ballooning college tuitions.

Moreso, Christensen’s prediction is on track, according to a WSJ recap of economist Nathan Grawe’s “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education.”


Grawe’s central thesis: Birthrates have plunged 13% since the Great Recession … and that “birth dearth” will cost America 450,000 fewer college applicants in the 2020s.

Here are some of the specifics….


According to Grawes:

The rate of college attendance has plateaued at 65%.

There are approximately 1,800 private four-year degree-granting institutions in the U.S.  The vast majority are small liberal arts colleges that are already “short on money and shorter on students”.

In Massachusetts alone, 17 colleges have closed over the past six years.

Going forward, Moody’s estimates that 15 private colleges will close each year.

College closings will eliminate 9,000 faculty and staff positions over the next decade … and will devastate many local economies.


So, what to do?

Grawes suggests four options beyond continuing to target — international and “non-traditional” students” …

1) Merge with other regional institutions to pool resources and eliminate duplications.

2)  Extend recruitment strategies beyond traditional local area with an emphasis on places where the birth dearth has been less severe.

3) Third, craft a niche identity for their colleges aimed at a particular student constituency, like future chemists or political scientists.

4) Establish partnerships with local two-year colleges to create paths to four-year degrees.

Graves concludes that these initiatives may postpone the demise of many colleges, but is unlikely to reverse the inevitable.


Whew!  I guess I retired at about the right time…


Follow on Twitter @KenHoma

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