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Book by Trustee Charles Ambrose and Michael Nietzel gains exposure in IHE, CHE

Charles M. Ambrose ’83.

Last updated February 9, 2024

By Tina Underwood

book cover showing a dangling building being pulled up by a rope held by people

“Colleges on the Brink” was published in December 2023.

Furman University Board of Trustees member and alumnus Charles Ambrose ’83 and Michael Nietzel have written a commentary for Inside Higher Education based on a new book the two have co-authored, “Colleges on the Brink: The Case for Financial Exigency.” The authors say that while outside influences that threaten the financial health of colleges and universities are many, administrators need to take an inward approach toward charting a course to financial viability. Ambrose and Nietzel say cost containment, a more robust effort to recruit and retain students, and modest administrative and academic restructuring are in order. For institutions whose outlook is more dire, more aggressive measures should be considered. The book, published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available through and other outlets.

In more recent coverage in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Robert Kelchen wrote an opinion piece about the book and offered his takeaways. Kelchen, professor and head of the department of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Tennessee, said he believes the book is geared more for trustees and policymakers, and the authors make a case for this “business savvy group” to continually reassess programs in order to free up funds.

In another article about the difficulty in gauging institutions’ financial health, Ambrose said the structural deficits in higher ed have been decades in the making. In addition to typical metrics for assessing viability, Ambrose told The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Scott Carlson that looking at graduation rates of low-income students relative to wealthier ones could be telling. A higher graduation rate for low-income students could reveal an institution’s commitment to student success, which Ambrose believes is a marker for long-term sustainability.

Ambrose is senior consultant for higher education strategy with Husch Blackwell. He’s served as a university president, chancellor and CEO at Pfeiffer University, University of Central Missouri, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, and Henderson State University. He’s held senior positions at Carson-Newman College, Western Carolina University and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Michael Nietzel is the former president of Missouri State University. Previously, he was dean of the Graduate School and provost at the University of Kentucky. After retirement from Missouri State, Nietzel served as senior policy advisor to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and was later deputy director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health. Since 2019, he’s been a senior higher education contributor for Forbes online.

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