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Student First Approach Leads to Record Breaking Enrollment

February 9, 2022

Unity College Commits to Leading on Environmental Science Education Accessibility

Unity College is now seeing exponential growth – thanks to an audience-centered approach, which puts our students and their needs first.

So, how did Unity College ascend from an institution that has never had more than 800 students in its 50-year history, to a college with more than 3,500 unduplicated students?

Unity College now prioritizes service to audience over all else. The creation of the Unity College Enterprise and separate Sustainable Educational Business Units (SEBUs) allows the institution to serve a more diversified student base. In fact, the school’s self-identified multi-cultural student population is now 20%. That’s up from a 50-year average of 8%. In order to achieve this, the college changed its entire decision-making paradigm.

“We went through a multi-year process to understand our mission and curriculum and realized our mission as America’s Environmental College is very relevant, but that access to the curriculum was restricted to traditional students looking for a residential model

This approach would not allow the college to serve multiple and differentiated audiences, such as place-bound adults. Additionally, telling faculty that they were going to need to change their pedagogy and technology wasn’t fair,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Khoury.

The enterprise model allows for the creation of distinct units within the overall college and is similar to a matrix organization. The advantages allow the College to be more responsive to the rapidly changing needs of students and society.

Unity College’s SEBUs are independent and charged with developing programs, services, and/or products that are tailored to audience-specific needs. This structure encourages SEBUs to focus on building programs that appeal to a specific kind of student, with programs and products designed to meet needed outcomes including degrees or certificates.

Unity College is no longer the small, 4-year residential college it once was. However, the school has also not lost sight of its roots – and still welcomes Hybrid Learning students for in-person learning at our field station located at 90 Quaker Hill in Unity. In the future, Unity College Hybrid Learning students will be working out of multiple locations across Maine.

“We are going to use the State of Maine as our classroom. Eventually, we hope our students will be able to learn aquaculture hands-on along the coast or study sustainable farming in Aroostook County. Nowhere in the world can you find a better place to teach the environmental sciences than here in Maine,” said Dr. Khoury.

“These Hybrid Learning students represent a much younger demographic than our other SEBUs. They are typically looking for 4-year Bachelor’s Degrees while learning through a mix of modalities, including online and in-person. It’s that mix that allows many of them to take full-time jobs that they would otherwise have had to pass on in order to finish their degree,” said Hybrid Learning Vice President Zachary Falcon.

That was the case this past year for Unity College Hybrid Learning students Amelia Frederic and Joshua Theriault, who both spoke with Portland news station CBS 13 about their experience.

“The setup has been really great,” Frederic said.

Just 20 years old and in her second year of college, she is also a deputy game warden, a job she’s dreamed of for years.

“I never thought my second year at Unity I would be hired by the Maine Warden Service,” Frederic said.

Frederic is one of five Unity College Hybrid Learning students who filled eight open Maine Game Warden positions this past spring.

“I’ll be able to work my full-time job with the Maine Warden Service and finish my degree this summer, rather than have to put my degree on hold … I do like that essentially I have a future job lined up after this, and I’m only three years into college already,” Theriault said.

Unity College’s rapidly growing Distance Education program is serving a completely different audience. College leaders realized after years of research that there is a critical mass of students who want an environmental education. Those students simply did not have a reasonable path to success. Now, this asynchronous, online program allows for ultimate flexibility – offering Master’s Degrees, Bachelor’s Degrees, and certifications.

“These adult place-bound students are your neighbors. They are mothers and fathers; they are people who don’t have the means to drop everything they are doing for four years to come live on-campus and study. What’s important is that they do want an environmental education, and it is up to us to provide it to them. The idea here is to allow every segment of the student population to have programs designed to fit their needs, said Dr. Khoury.

The average age of a Distance Education student has risen to 28 years old, as more adults discover an environmental education is possible at Unity College.

“From all 50 states and around the world, students are choosing Unity College in droves. The Distance Education program is bringing in hundreds of new students each term, as it continues to help the college break enrollment records,” said Distance Education Vice President Dr. Donavan Outten.

Sasha Isaac is a DE student from India who is currently living in Dubai and has always dreamed of working with animals.

“Watching National Geographic documentaries and reading books about wildlife only made me want to study and work with animals even more, but when I began researching degrees to pursue, I was disheartened to discover the high cost for international students in countries abroad,” said Isaac.

Fortunately, she never gave up on those dreams, and now Sasha is earning a Bachelor’s in Animal Health and Behavior.

“That’s where Unity College played a big role. With much more affordable tuition costs, flexibility, and the vast set of options for animal-related courses; I was thrilled to find out I could still pursue my dream course and job. Now, I’m as excited as ever to study with Unity and achieve my goals to work in animal conservation one day!”

Sasha’s not alone. Many students, like Rachel Hutchinson, are already seeing their hard work pay off. Hutchinson recently graduated from Unity College’s Distance Education Program with an MPS in Wildlife Management and Conservation.

“I chose Unity because it was flexible and 100% online and allowed me to obtain my degree while continuing to work full time in my career as a Shellfish Constable/Shellfish Propagation Specialist,” said Huchinson.

She says Unity College gave her the flexibility to complete coursework on her own schedule in a program focused on environmental professions.

“I enjoyed the diversity of other students and professors at Unity, and the ability to interact with others around the county who are working in a vast variety of fieldwork. Unity allowed me to finish a Master’s program that I would never have been able to do in person while working full time.”

Looking ahead, Unity College will be reaching even greater audiences, as new SEBUs continue to take shape in order to best serve students and their needs.

The School of Environmental Business and Sustainable Ventures will be maximizing Unity College’s current facilities at Sky Lodge in Jackman, McKay Farm in Thorndike, and the campus store in Unity as working, revenue generating manifestations of the college’s curriculum.

“Part of Unity’s environmental sustainability mission is the concept of commerce, and as an institution, the college recognizes that the green economy is growing quickly,” said Dr. Khoury.

“The School of Environmental Business and Sustainable Ventures will partner with, run, or build small, environmentally focused businesses while offering programs that support working in the green economy. These industries will include sustainable tourism, agribusiness, green energy sectors, and more,” said Dean of Environmental Business and Sustainable Ventures Tara Konya.

Konya says the goal is to develop environmentally based business programs that will integrate into these businesses.

“It’s going to be true experiential learning, where the projects include studying business by doing business. We are going to integrate our own businesses into student learning. This will give students very realistic, real time learning examples.”

The SEBU will offer certificates, baccalaureate, and master’s programs in a low; residency setting through a mix of modalities.

“Students will learn about the retail industry through courses integrated with the campus store. Agribusiness will be integrated into the green houses at McKay Farm. Students will help manage operations at Sky Lodge, which will be much like a low-residency campus. At the end of the day, we want to integrate education in an innovative, non-traditional format,” said Konya.

The school’s programs and curriculum will be announced this coming spring with its first cohort set to begin in the Fall of 2022.

As winter fades and the weather starts to warm, Unity College will be launching its newest SEBU: the Technical Institute for Environmental Professions (TIEP), which you can read much more about in this issue of Unity Magazine.

TIEP will focus on associate’s degrees, certificates, and upskilling workforce in the green economy. It will be based out of Pineland Farms in New Gloucester and use a mix of synchronous and asynchronous programming.

“The institute will be teaching our future veterinary technicians, solar installation experts, and environmental engineers,” said Khoury.

“Sometimes, people don’t want a degree, and we need to be able to support them; it’s no longer either or. It’s no longer are you educated or are you career ready. We need to create culturally competent, well-rounded, educated but career ready environmental stewards. How can we be America’s Environmental College if we don’t ensure that the door is open for everybody?”