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Recruit & Retain (Unity College)

A Sustainable Growth

Unity College finds new and innovative ways to boost enrollment.

Unity College in Unity, ME —also known as “America’s Environmental College” — has met the demands of the rapidly changing world of higher education head-on, becoming the first college to embrace sustainability science as its framework for teaching and learning. The results speak for themselves.

The Popularity of Sustainability

Key elements that are helping Unity College to differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace include: a multifaceted and comprehensive approach to increasing capacity; infrastructure improvements; and a hard working, dedicated faculty and staff. Current and prospective students praise the college’s environmental mission and focus on experiential learning tied to real world relevancy.

Unity College President Stephen Mulkey is confident that his institution is effectively educating students to address the environmental problems of the 21st century. “We are training students to gain the skills that are relevant not just for their first job after graduation, but for their fifth,” Mulkey says. “Our approach represents a sea change in higher education, addressing education in an expansive, comprehensive way that is turning the outdated lecture models that still plague higher education upside down.”

In 2013, Unity College was able to increase its incoming class by 16 percent over 2012. Seventy percent of the entire study body is choosing to live on campus. Because of this, during the fall semester the college began exploring future options for student housing. “A campus at residential capacity is an indication of student satisfaction and strength of Unity’s social community,” says Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, senior vice president for external affairs.

Khoury says that Unity College’s first-rate faculty and staff, who are creating dynamic research and experiential learning opportunities for students, is central to its aspirations, achievements and success. The college’s improved national visibility, hard work of admissions professionals and accolades it has received — such as being named to the 2013-14 Colleges of Distinction Guide — are all factors in the college’s increased enrollment.

Sustainability Science and Record Expansion

In recent years, Unity College has gained national attention for a variety of achievements, including its focus on sustainability science; its groundbreaking green innovations such as the awardwinning TerraHaus, the first student residence on a college or university campus built to the Passive House standard, the most energy efficient building standard in the world; and for being the first college in the U.S. to divest from investments in fossil fuels, igniting a growing national movement in higher education.

“Our students engage the world and are a part of everything the college does,” says Mulkey, who points out that students helped to design TerraHaus and lead educational tours through the building. “We empower our students to make a difference and prepare them to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century.”

Though the college now enjoys its highest campus occupancy rate and increasing geographic diversity, it will continue to improve the diversity of its student body, he says. Plans are underway to attract more international students and develop online and graduate programs.

Hiring additional faculty will enhance academic offerings and improve flexibility. These factors, combined with new staff hires in recruitment, fundraising, grant writing, distance and graduate education, will maximize growth potential.

Real-world Success

“Unity College is developing a model to ensure that graduates have the skills to be in demand the day that they graduate, and continue to be relevant as the green economy develops jobs that are not even in existence today,” Khoury says. President Mulkey asserts that students deserve to be full partners in their own education, working within a supportive system that helps them make important connections across the disciplines.

Students began the 2013-14 academic year on a campus that well serves both academic and community needs. Thirty facility improvement projects were completed over the summer, including the renovation of three science laboratories. Khoury says that other projects to enhance the campus in service to Unity’s mission are anticipated in the coming years. The college is currently constructing an approximately 18,000-square-foot suite-style residence hall for upperclassmen that is expected to meet LEED Silver standards. The hall is slated for completion in August of 2014.

Through the framework of sustainability science, Unity College provides a liberal arts education that emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Through experiential and collaborative learning, graduates emerge as responsible citizens, environmental stewards and visionary leaders.

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Mark Tardif is associate director of College Communications for Unity College. He can be contacted at mtardif@unity.edu.

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