From his suburban home south of Cleveland, David Armstrong is apologizing. The doorbell is ringing (a deliveryman is inquiring about the Corvette he’d rather sell than move). The dogs are barking (his wife, Leslie, works with rescue animals; they have three). There are rooms to be painted, boxes to be packed.

“It’s a madhouse here right now,” the new president of Thomas More College says.

But Thomas More didn’t tap Armstrong, vice president and general counsel at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio, for his ability to juggle the household jobs inherent in relocation, nor did Thomas More choose him just to keep its own house running smoothly. Among the qualities Thomas More liked most in Armstrong, chosen to succeed the retiring Sister Margaret Stallmeyer as president of the Catholic diocesan school in Crestview Hills, was his vision for how to best position the liberal-arts college in a changing 21st-century landscape for higher education.

“I love Sister Margaret,” Armstrong says. “She’s been incredibly helpful, and she’s a wonderful woman, which tells me why she’s been so successful and why everybody loves her. But I couldn’t be more different from Sister Margaret.

“I think what Thomas More saw in me, and Sister Margaret would say ‘this is someone with experience in where the challenges in higher education will be going forward.”

The Most Rev. Roger J. Foys, bishop of the Diocese of Covington and chancellor of Thomas More, said of Armstrong in a statement: “I was very impressed with him during my interview and I have every confidence that he will build on the solid foundation of those who have gone before him.”

And John F. Hodge III, incoming chair of the Thomas More board of trustees who also chaired the search committee, added Armstrong has “the experience and skill set to serve successfully as president of Thomas More College. He will bring enthusiasm, passion and energy to the position. I look forward to him building upon what Sister Margaret has achieved.”

The 14th president in the history of the school – founded as Villa Madonna College in 1921 and rededicated as Thomas More in current-day Crestview Hills by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 – doesn’t stand on formality. He prefers to be called Dave. He celebrates and suffers with the Cleveland Browns. He likes chicken wings, the occasional round of golf, spending vacations porch-sitting in Chautauqua, N.Y., and is happiest when watching his son, David, 15, pitch in a baseball game, or seeing daughter Johanna, 13, act or sing on stage.

“That’s my heaven on earth right there,” he says.

Though he’s not the first layman to hold the top post at Villa Madonna or Thomas More, a priest or nun has been president for 18 of the past 21 years. But Armstrong, 49, is rooted deeply in the Catholic faith. One of seven children, he attended parochial grade school and high school, and was one of the four siblings who moved on to a Catholic college. “I’m what you’d call a cradle Catholic,” he says.

Aside from his calling, here’s where Armstrong further diverges from his predecessors in the president’s chair: his background in higher education – his alma mater, Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., at Thiel College in Greenville, Pa., and at Notre Dame – has come in the arenas of legal support, development, fundraising and athletics. The initiatives he has spearheaded are focused on growing enrollment and online education. Working seven years in a variety of roles at Mercyhurst, Armstrong helped secure a $1 million charitable trust, the school’s largest gift. At Notre Dame, he helped secure the school’s largest gift, $2.1 million. He’s looking forward to doing the same for Thomas More, by asking not so much for open checkbooks as for open ears and minds.

“What I’ve learned is, if you’re not part of something special that is mission-centric, you can’t raise money,” Armstrong says. “You have to have a quality product.”

“I’m not asking you for money; what I do is I tell people the story of Thomas More College, the past, present and future. By our passion, by our excitement, by our mission focus, people will want to invest in that. I want them to be part of what we do at Thomas More. I want them to know it’s worth their time and investment, because what we do is special.”

While at Notre Dame, Armstrong helped bolster enrollment to around 2,000 (from 20 states and a dozen different countries) in part by advocating the expansion of successful programs for adult education and online learning. He plans to do the same at Thomas More.

“To be in the adult education business, you have to be in the online business,” he says. “Adults are looking for convenience and lower costs to get that degree quickly and get out in the marketplace, and that makes online the best mode of delivery. That doesn’t change the educational requirements and standards; it’s just a different mode of delivery.”

From experience, Armstrong says expansion of online learning “is not without its bumps and bruises,” but that it’s vital for the future of college campuses.

“In the future, there’s still going to be a place for brick and mortar, certainly,” he said. “If you look at where students say they get the best education and the best overall experience, it’s in that traditional setting. But we have to be open to serving students where they are, and online allows us the opportunity to do that.”

Armstrong and his family have been house hunting in Northern Kentucky, though he says friends thought he’d surely stay on the Ohio side of the river. Armstrong said he and his family were taken with the friendliness of the Kentucky side and want to be part of it.

“Cleveland is one of the greatest places on earth. People are shocked that I’m leaving,” he said. “It would take a very special place to get me to leave. But Thomas More is that place. Northern Kentucky is that place.”