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An Action Agenda for Addressing the Existential Challenges Facing Higher Education

  • Declining enrollments, broken financial models, educational inequities, public dissatisfaction with graduates, and COVID-19.  

  • Even greater disruptions are looming on the horizon; a global knowledge, work and learning ecosystem will revolutionize learner expectations. 

  • Learners will anticipate the fusion of learning, living, and work over a 60-year time span. 

  • Tens of millions of additional learners – or even more - will be added to the global learning force. 

  • To compete in this rapidly expanding arena, traditional institutions will need to transform. 


Create a New Breed of Colleges and Universities That Is:

  • Engaged, innovative, and affordable. 

  • Able to curate and concierge learning experiences from a broad range of external collaborators.  

  • Serving as a gateway to a much broader range of offerings and experiences.

To Achieve This Transformation, Higher Education Leaders Must Concurrently Reinvent

Their Institutions Along Four Dimensions:

Digitally Transform All Processes

Academic, support and administrative; curricular reform, 60-year span; optimize student success, foresight-driven planning, knowledge-on-demand, and higher performance and productivity.

Achieve A New,
Open Curriculum

Blended options, many choices, pathways and off-ramps, shortened pathways to employment, more affordable, personalized, tailored to all stages of life.

Leverage Many Channels Of Distribution

Prior and concurrent learning, curricular, co-curricular, work-related, do-it-yourself, and free range learning.

Deploy Multiple Modes Of Learning

Traditional providers offer variations on existing offerings, rely on collaborators to partner on new modes, Marketplace Facilitators provide knowledge and learning on demand.


Transforming in Turbulent Times: An Action Agenda for Higher Education Leaders Defines A Highly Inclusive Transformation Approach For Addressing This Challenge.  


The book presents a proven eight-step process for planning, leading, navigating, and orchestrating transformation. Each chapter is supported by stories, case studies, and scenarios that demonstrate the principles, techniques, and actions described in the chapter. The following table of contents describes the contents of the book.



Donald Norris | Joseph (Tim) Gilmour | Linda Baer

ON SALE NOW in e-book or print-on-demand versions.  

Purchase provides free online access to the cases, stories, and scenarios cited in the book.  

Table of Contents 

Using These Resources to Achieve

Transformative Outcomes

Chapter I - Disruptive Threats Demand Transformative Leadership

  • Story: The Leadership Journey of Blue Ridge University’s President 


Chapter II - A New Breed of Colleges and Universities for a Turbulent World

  • Case: Western Governors University Meets the Needs of Learners and Employers 

  • Case: New Approaches to Curating Content for Colleges and Universities 

  • Scenario: The Growing Influence of Adult Learners by 2030 


Chapter III -  Execute Framework for Leading, Navigating, and Orchestrating Transformation

  • Story: Blue Ridge University Chooses a Model for Leading Transformative Change

Chapter IV - Shape a Bold Vision, Build a Shared Sense of Urgency

  • Story: Blue Ridge University Uses Engagement Action Plans in its Journey 

  • Case: Mount Saint Mary’s University Mobilizes the Campus for COVID and Beyond 

  • Case: Austin Community College Builds Pathways, Partnerships, and Resilience

  • Case: Mott Community College -Impact on Learners of Switching to Online Delivery

Chapter V - Craft Expeditionary Strategies to Achieve the Vision

  • Case: Georgia Tech Reaches Out to 2040

  • Case: Massachusetts General Hospital IHP – Innovation for Turbulent Times

  • Case: Ocean County College Transforms Strategies, Programs, and Culture

Chapter VI - Orchestrate Transformational Change

  • Case: Southern New Hampshire University Orchestrates Transformative Change

  • Story: Blue Ridge University’s Ten-Year Journey Forward to 2030     

Chapter VII  -  Transformation Is for Every Institution, Playing a Vital Role in Economic Revitalization

  • Story: Blue Ridge University Plays a Major Role in Regional Revitalization


Chapter VIII -  Get Started and Maintain Momentum


Chapter IX - Collection of Case Studies, Storytelling and Scenarios (Linked Resources)


References and Resources 



“Change at universities and colleges often happens at a glacial pace, a luxury not afforded us in this time of tectonic and rapid shifts in the world.  This book is a must read for leaders struggling to transform their institutions; it offers case studies, exemplars, and methods for approaching the challenge and accelerating the work.  We learn best from stories, and these are powerful stories of success at a time when so many institutions are struggling. They offer not only valuable information, but also hope."


Paul LeBlanc


Southern New Hampshire University

Author, Students First: Equity, Access, and Opportunity in Higher Education (2021)


An Online Repository of Cases, Stories, and Scenarios 

The case materials cited in the book can be accessed digitally for free by purchasers of the book in either format. In addition, Strategic Initiatives will continuously add new materials to the Repository. It will also develop cross-cutting analyses of outcomes and lessons learned using the full-range of materials collected there. These case and analytical materials will be bundled quarterly; they will be made available for purchase through this portal. Purchasers of the book and case bundles will be notified when new publications become available.


Collaborating on Case Studies—Call for Participants


In writing the institutional case studies developed for our book, Transformation Team learned much about the practice of transformation in higher education.  As part of our efforts going forward, the team wants to continue this work—broadening and deepening our knowledge—and to share this knowledge with our clients through this portal as it is developed.  For this reason, we are issuing an open invitation to higher education institutions to collaborate with us in developing case studies about their own transformative journeys, informed by our transformation frameworks.  Please contact Dr. Donald M. Norris at if you have an interest in participating.  The participants we have worked with on case studies to date have told us that their participation helped them put their efforts in perspective and develop fresh thinking about how to proceed in the future.

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