As Covid-19 has led to the shuttering of physical campuses and many institutions are seeing shrinking enrollments this fall, the prediction that Clay Christensen and I made in 2013 in the New York Times that at least 25 percent of colleges and universities would close, merge, or declare exigency over the next couple decades has felt even more relevant.
Onlookers would be mistaken to assume that Clay and I hoped schools would go under, or that we didn’t recognize the human and community costs as they did so. As we’ve written, we hope that colleges and universities prove us wrong by innovating to survive and thrive. Our prediction is by no means a fait accompli.
At the same time, those who ignore the challenges facing higher education are ignoring the reality of a broken business model for many institutions and the demographic dangers lurking for many, although certainly not all, institutions. And this was before Covid-19 struck and a recession began. To be clear, disruption has not been the major driver of the closures to date.