Universities and colleges in the United States (U.S.) are in a period of rapid transformation. Driven by the need for an educated workforce, higher education institutions are responding to rapid innovation, globalization, economic realities, and sociodemographic shifts. Simultaneously, extensive educational online networks connect millions of people worldwide enable learning and knowledge sharing beyond what society has experienced to date. In light of technological advancements, the preservation and presentation of certain ideals that undergird academia and the communication and application of knowledge are undergoing dramatic change. Within higher education, this is both a challenge and an opportunity to re-envision the commitment to educate the public. This research discusses potential forms of this redesign and how it can build upon and depart from previous iterations of higher education. How colleges and universities will adapt to become more relevant, engaging, and accessible is a pressing question that must be addressed.
Using case studies focused on creating sustainability education materials, this dissertation develops knowledge related to three interconnected areas of study that will contribute to redesigning higher education through participatory action research methodology. First, higher education has a civic responsibility to provide new ways of thinking, being, and doing globally and providing more access to education to broader society, especially through public research institutions. Second, with a vast array of available learning materials, higher education should invest in elegantly-designed experiences consisting of well-reasoned, meticulously-curated, and high-quality content that is aesthetically appealing, engaging, and accessible to a broad audience. Third, as universities transition from the gatekeepers of knowledge to the connectors of knowledge, they also need to ensure that a coherent mission is articulated and invested in by stakeholders to create an intentionally beneficial transformational effort. The transformation of higher education toward a more inclusive learning environment through new ways of thinking and elegantly-designed learning experiences will serve to improve our learning institutions. As part of the necessary core for an educated democracy, higher education institutions must strive to create a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse society.