Larry Bacow calls campuses ‘far more adaptable and durable’ than sceptics claim.|
Harvard University president Larry Bacow has rejected widespread fears about growing numbers of closures across US higher education, insisting that most struggling institutions will find ways to survive.
“The death of American higher education as we know it has been grossly over-predicted, and consistently so,” Dr Bacow told a conference in Washington.
The rate of US college closures has been increasing recently: it is now running at 11 a year among private institutions, and growing, Moody’s Investors Service reported last year.
Dr Bacow has had an especially close view, with recent closures in Massachusetts including Wheelock College, Newbury College and Mount Ida College. Hampshire College, in the west of the state, has just announced that it will not admit a full intake of freshman this autumn because of budget troubles.
Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, has gained attention for his predictions – now several years running – that as many as half of US universities will fail within 10 to 15 years.
But Dr Bacow pushed back against such talk at the conference on the future of higher education, which was hosted by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution. “Colleges and universities are far more adaptable and durable than some may give them credit for being,” he said.
He cited revival stories such as Antioch College and Sweet Briar College; the apparent success of Bennett College in raising well beyond the $5 million (£3.9 million) that it needed by this month to survive; and the vibrant rebirth in recent decades of Harvard’s neighbour Northeastern University.
Dr Bacow and others at the conference were less clear, however, on how exactly the success stories would outpace the closures, given the demographic realities of declining US birth rates, growing economic divides, high student debt rates, political hostilities towards immigration and rising foreign competition.
A host of the gathering, Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution, prodded Dr Bacow on whether the nation’s better-off institutions could do more to help the wider academy and its students amid their mounting troubles. Dr Reeves, a senior fellow in economic studies at Brookings, cited the influence that Harvard holds by virtue of, among other things, its wealth, reputation and high number of graduates in prestigious and powerful positions.
Read more : Paul Basken : Times Higher Education : 08 February 2019