A statewide business magazine has named Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury one of Maine’s 10 most influential leaders.

Khoury was named to MaineBiz’s NEXT list, featuring “the 10 people who will influence the future of Maine’s economy.”

The juried list “honors business savvy individuals, nominated by their peers and colleagues, who are true entrepreneurs, forward-thinking leaders, and positive motivators for change.”

Khoury was recognized, in part, for his expert financial and organization management success at Unity College, and for leading the charge toward innovating higher education. “It’s going to be a small private that invents the future model for a sustainable higher education experience,” he has said.

“Based on the growth of Unity College, both in its enrollment and the physical growth of its campus, along with steps you’ve taken to free the campus of fossil fuel dependence and other factors, the selection committee was unanimous in its decision,” MaineBiz Editor Peter VanAllen wrote in his award letter to Khoury.

“I am so humbled by this honor,” Khoury said. “Higher education is an important part of the Maine economy, and we believe small, private higher education will continue to flourish here if we leverage our location, focus on student outcomes, and are willing innovate our industry. Now is the time for Vacationland to become Educationland.”

Unity College is widely recognized for a unique curriculum that emphasizes sustainability science, providing students with the capacity to address global changes using an experiential, hands-on approach, small class sizes, and field work as the rule rather than the exception.

“President Khoury recognizes that financial sustainability is integral to environmental sustainability,” said McKay Farm and Research Station Manager Christopher Bond. “And he fosters an environment that recognizes the need for creative solutions to the problems facing higher education today.”

Khoury has put the school on sound financial footing as Unity College has grown amid a challenging national backdrop for small private colleges.

In a July 2015 financial outlook, the investor research service Moody’s found one in 10 public and private colleges in “acute financial distress.” In a separate report, Moody’s predicted closure rates at small colleges and universities will triple in the coming years, with as many as 15 institutions shutting their doors annually by next year.

Unity College welcomed 705 students this 2016-17 academic year, shattering its previous enrollment record of 638 students from Fall 2015 — a 10.5 percent year-over-year increase.

Khoury, who became the college’s 11th president in 2016 after serving as executive vice president and chief academic officer, has led a major multi-year campus buildout that employed hundreds of local contractors and used products and services from dozens of Maine businesses. In the 2015-16 academic year alone, Unity College invested over $9 million in local vendors.

Projects over the last three years have included two $4.4 million fossil-fuel-free residence halls that opened in 2013 and 2014; a $1.1 million cafeteria expansion, completed in 2014; and, this, year, renovations to an academic wing of the Student Activities Center, construction of a new outdoor deck and dining area, and the repurposing of two signature energy-efficient buildings into classroom and student life space. A new $6 million expansion — to be unveiled at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday — saw construction of an academic building with classrooms and student success center, plus another energy-efficient new residence hall for first-year students.

Taken together, and with other physical plant improvements, more than $20 million has been invested in student-facing campus improvements since 2012.

Khoury’s investment in growth has brought new cash to Maine. Out-of-state Unity College students paid $10.1 million in tuition, fees, room and board in 2013-14, $10.6 million in 2014-15, and $13.1 million in 2015-16, and are projected to spend more than $13.2 million this academic year. That’s approximately $47 million brought to Maine from out of state in the last four years.

Additionally, highly educated faculty and staff are excited to work at Unity College and are drawn to Maine from outside the state, with 19 faculty and staff having moved to Maine to accept well-paying positions at the college since 2011. The new hires — many of them PhD-educated faculty — came from Florida, Iowa, New York, Louisiana, Oregon, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kansas, Indiana, and Montana; and from Australia.

“President Khoury has demonstrated a real command of the metrics of institutional financial health,” Professor of Sustainable Agriculture Douglas Fox said. “Knowing that we have a strong, capable leader who is providing us with sound parameters within which to operate gives us faculty the freedom to focus on student learning, which is our institutional mission.”

In 2012, Unity College became the first U.S. college to divest its portfolio of fossil fuels. From that year forward, it’s posted a positive return on its endowment that exceeded expectations. In 2015-16, the school also posted a 300 percent increase in annual fund giving, led by Khoury.

Khoury says: “I firmly believe that the current higher education model is unsustainable. I also believe that the innovation needed to create the new model will be written by small, private liberal arts colleges.

“I expect Unity College to be that college. Unity College has what every school wants: a relevant and distinct mission, a creative faculty and staff, a loyal alumni base, a state unmatched for environmental diversity, and a disciplined board of trustees. With that platform, we will deliver on the promise of America’s Environmental College. That’s good for our students, for Unity College, and for the state of Maine.”

Khoury’s inclusion on the prestigious NEXT list will appear in the Oct. 3 print editions of MaineBiz.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016