Unity College, a small private college in Maine which has seen record-setting enrollment growth for the past three years, credits at least some of that growth to major investments in its students.
Propelled by student-centered investments in academics, personnel, facilities, and technology, Fall 2016 saw a record number 729 students arrive on campus when school began on Aug. 29. The Fall 2015 comparative headcount of 665 was the previous largest enrollment in college history, but Unity College is not quite ready to rest on its laurels.
Fueled by grant-funding, Unity College faculty and staff are currently engaged in an effort to reimagine the first two years of the college experience based on student learning preferences data and the latest in teaching and learning research.
“Not only are our enrollments growing, our graduation rate continues to climb which makes it clear that our current students are already benefitting from the work we’re doing to reimagine the first two years of college,” said Dr. Sarah Cunningham, Chief Student Success Officer. “The entering class of 2017 is only going to see more benefit as they grow along with us.”
Success for Unity College goes well beyond simple enrollments. All those new students at Unity College in the fall are more likely to realize their academic dreams than some of their friends who attend comparable institutions. According to the latest data available through the National Center for Education Statistics, Unity College students graduate at a rate almost 10% higher than their peers, and according to a recent survey, 92% of Unity College Alumni report getting a job in their field or attending graduate school within one year of graduating. Cue the entering class of 2017.
A capacity crowd of nearly 300 students and their parents and guardians are on their way to campus for New Student Experience this Earth Day, April 22. Joe Saltalamachia, Director of Admissions, said that he expects around 90% of those students to attend the college, which could help Unity College set yet another new record for total enrollment in Fall 2017.
If you ask Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, he will explain that the correlation between increased demand, increased student outcomes, and increased investment in students is no accident.
“Unity College believes 100% in investing in our students,” said Khoury. “Years ago Unity made the strategic decision that investing in our students will also serve the college and it is paramount that small colleges continue to build a model that delivers results for both today’s and tomorrow’s students. The continually growing demand for a Unity College education seems to be proof that our approach is paying off, for the college and for our students.”
Investing in students includes investing in personnel, programs, and infrastructure.
After adding five new faculty positions since 2011, Unity College is in the process of hiring two more faculty positions for the Fall of 2017 in an effort to maintain a faculty to student ratio of fourteen to one. By adding full time faculty, Unity College has been able to reduce reliance on part time adjunct faculty to just 20%, an 11% decrease since 2011. According to a 2015 article by Forbes, the national average for reliance on adjuncts is 51%. Unity College’s 20% reliance on adjunct faculty puts America’s Environmental College an impressive 31% percent lower than the national average.
In addition to traditional faculty, Unity College students will soon benefit from an industry-leading approach to student services with the addition of three “student success coaches” in the Fall of 2017. Student growth professionals in these new hybrid positions will work with students both as advisors in support of student development, resilience, and academic success, and also as instructors, adding teaching capacity in areas like communications and writing, psychology, and health and wellness.
“Student success coaches are really a response to student need,” said Cunningham. “Today’s students are more accustomed to having integrated resources, whether online or in their day-to-day encounters. A blended approach to coaching, advising, teaching, and support may be a little ahead of its time, but it’s what students expect now.”
In addition to personnel additions, physical plant improvements over the last five years have included construction of a $6 million expansion that includes a new academic building with classrooms and student success center, plus a new fossil fuel-free residence hall exclusively for first-year students, completed for fall 2016; two $4.4 million fossil-fuel-free residence halls that opened in 2013 and 2014; a $1.1 million cafeteria expansion, completed in 2014; a new outdoor deck and dining area; and the repurposing of two signature buildings, Unity House and TerraHaus, into classroom and student life space.
“We’re excited about the future,” said Khoury. “The future of Unity College and the future of our students.”