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April 2020
Johns Hopkins University Press

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The Fifth Wave

The Evolution of American Higher Education
Michael M. Crow
William B. Dabars

America's research universities lead the world in discovery, creativity, and innovation — but are captive to a set of design constraints that no longer aligns with the changing needs of society. Their commitment to discovery and innovation, carried out largely in isolation from the socioeconomic challenges faced by most Americans, threatens to impede the capacity of these institutions to contribute decisively and consistently to the collective good. The global preeminence of our leading institutions, moreover, does not correlate with overall excellence in American higher education. Sadly, admissions practices that flatly exclude the majority of academically qualified applicants are now the norm in leading universities, both public and private.

In "The Fifth Wave," Michael Crow and William Dabars argue that colleges and universities need to be comprehensively redesigned in order to educate millions more qualified students while leveraging the complementarities between discovery and accessibility. This book examines the historical development of American higher education — the first four waves — and describes the emerging standard of institutions that will transform the field. What must emerge in this Fifth Wave of universities, Crow and Dabars posit, are institutions that are responsive to the needs of students, focused on access, embedded in their regions and committed to solving global problems.

Drawing from a variety of disciplines, including design, economics, public policy, organizational theory, science and technology, sociology, and even cognitive psychology and epistemology, "The Fifth Wave" is a must-read for anyone concerned with the future of higher education in our society.


Michael Crow became the 16th president of Arizona State University on July 1, 2002. An academic leader and educator, he is guiding the transformation of ASU into one of the nation’s leading public metropolitan research universities, an institution that combines academic excellence, inclusiveness, and societal impact — a model he terms the “New American University.”

William Dabars is senior research fellow for university design and senior director of research for the New American University in the Office of the President, Arizona State University. He received a doctorate in history from the University of California-Los Angeles, and his research and publications focus on the evolution of the American research university.

Praise for this book

"Michael M. Crow is one of a handful of the most creative and able presidents of any American university. I consider any new book that he produces to be an important event. 'The Fifth Wave' should be read by academic, business and governmental leaders, especially those who have a stake in the continued preeminence of the great research universities ― and their future structures ― in the United States."

Jonathan R. Cole
Columbia University, author of "The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected"

"In a perfect world, we would clone Michael Crow, so every university would have the same advantage as Arizona State University. Until that happens, 'The Fifth Wave' is our next best option."

Malcolm Gladwell
Journalist and author