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The Journal of the State Comprehensive University

Surviving the Future: The Seven Revolutions Initiative as a Strategic Model for Curricular and Institutional Innovation

Surviving the Future: The Seven Revolutions Initiative as a Strategic Model for Curricular and Institutional Innovation

Darrell A. Hamlin
Brett L. Whitaker
Fort Hays State University


To maintain viability in the 21st century, state comprehensive institutions of higher education must act with strategic purpose now to be able to accomplish future curricular, operational and financial objectives—for the students they serve, for the communities where they operate, and for the states that appropriate their budgets. Survival is at stake for such institutions as they compete for enrollment in a forbidding economic context, while seeking funds from legislatures struggling to cope with revenue shortfalls. The state comprehensive university must innovate to adapt to emerging and unforeseen realities. One model for adaptive design is The Seven Revolutions Initiative (7 Revs), an American Democracy Project collaborative project of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the New York Times, and an initial cohort of scholars from eight AASCU institutions to adapt content for the university classroom. Close examination of this collaborative project reveals a strategic roadmap that is valuable to state comprehensive universities on both the curricular and institutional levels.

From a curricular perspective, the project has established course and program initiatives that are relevant to students both personally and professionally; that utilize technical, substantive, financial and professional resources available from outside the university; that enable students to connect the focus of their choices now to the quality of their lives and potential success in the future; that alert students to emerging global realities and the implications for their lives. From an institutional perspective, just as students must learn to adapt to the future so also must state comprehensives adapt to the future in higher education. More specifically, state comprehensive institutions must be preparing now for revolutions in five key areas that will affect their capacity to survive: civic education initiatives, sustainability themes, virtual learning, trans- disciplinary approaches and structural realignment, and cross-sector collaboration. To survive the challenging economic conditions of today yet remain viable for the next century, state comprehensive universities must adapt to new realities just as their students must adapt to a challenging future. The Seven Revolutions Initiative provides one model for how state comprehensive universities can strategize around curricular content and toward institutional mission.


In order to help business and public policy leaders think more strategically about their long-term decision-making, Erik Peterson, formerly the Director of the Global Strategy Institute at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., developed the 7 Revs framework (Peterson, 2010). Designed to aid these leaders in considering the trends and challenges they would face in the next quarter century, he called his presentation The Seven Revolutions. In exploring the world of 2025, he identified the following seven areas of revolutionary change:

• Population
• Resource management and environmental stewardship
• Technological innovation and diffusion
• The development and dissemination of information and knowledge
• Economic integration
• The nature and mode of conflict
• The challenge of governance

Many of the key players at the entities traditionally served by CSIS recognized the limitations that were placed on them on a daily basis to focus solely on operational management; constrained by the bottom line, they too often ignored the long view. In an effort to encourage such analysis in boardrooms and government agencies, Peterson began offering the 7 Revolutions as a call to long-term strategy.

The genesis of the Seven Revolutions as an academic program began in 2006, when AASCU vice president for academic leadership and change George Mehaffy invited Peterson and CSIS to partner with AASCU to think about offering the 7 Revs content to a college student audience. AASCU was already affiliated with the New York Times through their American Democracy Project, begun in 2003, and the Times became the third partner in this new and unique collaborative enterprise (Mehaffey, 2010). CSIS provided in-depth policy and trend analysis, as well as the 7 Revs framework. The Times provided access to unprecedented resources from its archives dating back to 1851, in addition to hyper- current streaming news from around the world. AASCU provided the structure and support from their more than 430 campuses across the country representing over three million students. Out of this three-way partnership, the 7 Revolutions project, as it has become today, was born.

Member Institutions

The following AASCU institutions were the original participants in the Seven Revolutions Project:

California State University at Fresno
Fort Hays State University (Kansas)
Fort Lewis College (Colorado)
Northern Arizona University
Southeast Missouri State University
Western Kentucky University
University of Minnesota Duluth
University System of Georgia

The partner institutions that have piloted the 7 Revolutions Project on their campuses represent a wide diversity of educational settings. Because the directive from the initial origins of the project was to discover and develop successful methods for incorporating this material into college curriculum, the 7 Revs materials have been utilized in diverse ways on the various campuses. Each of the 7 Revs scholars took the source materials and resources back to their host institutions and began to create ways to offer the materials to students. The 7 Revs framework resources have been used in a freshmen level introductory course, senior level capstone courses, honors colleges, breakout courses that utilize parts of the materials, as well as integrative courses that bring elements of the 7 Revs materials into existing courses across the curriculum. Each of these methods represents a different way of incorporating the materials, but each also represents a different framework that institutions can use to adopt and incorporate these powerful materials into their efforts to educate globally competent citizens.

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