Higher education has historically been viewed by many as a place of occupational safety characterized by tenure, solid endowments and the absence of the make or break competition that characterizes the business world. Rarely have institutions of higher education failed.
Fifty-five high quality, private colleges have closed down and liquidated in the past three years according to a Forbes article, their facilities being repurposed and their employees scattered. Hundreds of these institutions are for the first time facing forces well known to the private sector: falling demand, intense competition, and capital challenges. As one small college president said: “I told them (my board) the only way we’re going to succeed is by putting other colleges out of business because you have to take market share.”
Over the decades, many activities that were once considered not to be businesses have become, well, businesses. Law, medicine, architecture and other fields that one considered themselves “professions” have acquired distinctly corporate attributes as well. I suppose that for higher education it was just a matter of time.
For some post-graduate education, check out the Forbes article “Dawn of the Dead: For Hundreds of The Nation’s Private Colleges, It’s Merge or Perish.” There are lessons here for every organization; for-profit or not. It will be interesting to see how these institutions respond to these challenges.
Maybe the colleges aren’t through teaching us. Are the larger schools and the Ivy League next?