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  • How Colleges Change: Understanding, Leading, and Enacting Change by Adrianna Kezar
  • Chris Mayer, Ph.D.
Adrianna Kezar. How Colleges Change: Understanding, Leading, and Enacting Change. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014. 257 pp. Paper: $47.45. ISBN 978-0-415-53206-8.

Internal and external forces continue to push for change in higher education. Political leaders, the public, and foundations advocate for lower tuition and higher quality; boards of trustees and accreditors also serve as catalysts for change. Additionally, administrators, faculty, and staff seek better ways to promote student learning and more effectively accomplish their institution’s missions. Yet, despite all of this desire for change and, ultimately, improvement, enacting change is extremely difficult. Many proposed initiatives are not implemented. Even when they are implemented, many initiatives fail to achieve their desired results. Adrianna Kezar highlights this reality when she notes that there are “high failure rates (upward of 70 percent in most studies) of change initiatives” (p. xvi); this is one of the reasons her book, How Colleges Change: Understanding, Leading, and Enacting Change, is a must read for practitioners, policy makers, and scholars.

Kezar is a Professor of Higher Education at the University of Southern California and Co-Director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education, who has been a prolific contributor to the scholarship on change in higher education. In discussing why she wrote the book, Kezar notes that while there are numerous books addressing the topic of change, a good deal of them focus on business or other areas rather than higher education. She also notes that practical works on change are often too simplistic and not grounded in scholarship; they often rely too much on anecdotes (xv). On the other hand, scholarly work is often too complex or abstract to be used by practitioners and policy makers; it is not comprehensible by those who lack a solid grounding in the scholarship of change. Recognizing this gap, Kezar writes that “few books are able to successfully join theory with practice and make concepts accessible to policymakers and practitioners, yet still complex enough for scholars. I hope this book achieves that level of blended theory and practice” (p. xi). Kezar, for the most part, achieves this goal.

In the Preface, Kezar explains what she means by change by distinguishing it from adaption, isomorphism, organizational change, innovation, and reform. She defines change as “those intentional acts where a particular leader drives or implements a new direction” (p. xii). It is important to note that later in the Preface she shifts to the term “change agent,” rather than leader, “to signal that anyone can create change” (p. xvii). After she defines change, she presents four mistakes leaders make that result in failed change efforts and discusses the outline of a framework for a more effectively means of implementing change at higher education institutions.

Chapter 1 identifies internal and external drivers of change in higher education. These eight forces range from the importance of higher education to the global economy to the increasing diversity of the student bodies on campuses. This discussion, while certainly not inclusive of all of the drivers of change and not an in-depth discussion of each, provides the reader insight as to why the ability to effectively implement change is essential for higher education institutions.

Kezar presents six theories of change in Chapter 2. This twenty-page chapter provides a brief [End Page 167] description of each theory and includes numerous citations that provide the opportunity for readers to explore those theories in greater depth. Recognizing that many readers will be unfamiliar with these theories, Kezar provides a helpful table that highlights essential characteristics of each of the six theories related to questions such as why change occurs, the type of change that the theory addresses, and strengths and weaknesses associated with each theory.

Arguing that that change agents often make the mistake of treating all change initiatives the same, Kezar identifies different types of change in Chapter 3. The chapter includes discussions on the content, scope, levels, focus, forces, and sources of change. Change agents are urged to analyze proposed changes using these categories to determine which theories apply to a specific initiative...


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