UNITY, Maine — Unity College’s latest venture is a plan to open a hybrid online and in-person institute that will offer students associates degrees and workforce certificates, with classes starting in the fall.
But the Technical Institute for Environmental Professions will not be located at the school’s flagship campus on Quaker Hill Road in Unity. Instead, it will be at the Libra Foundation’s Pineland Farms campus in New Gloucester.
School officials said the collaboration with the foundation is great news for the college, and will allow Unity College to keep costs down for students who are pursuing skills and training in careers such as the solar industry.
“We’re very proud and very lucky to have a partner in Pineland Farms,” Melik Khoury, president of Unity College, said this week. “We are working with them, and they have dedicated one of the buildings to build this technical institute.”
But for some Unity College alumni, the plan to locate the institute in southern Maine seems like a lost opportunity and another sign that the school they attended has changed nearly beyond recognition.
“I see what they’re doing, and I see why, to some extent. You know, you have to change. They are trying to be innovative and reach out to this new market,” said Hauns Bassett, an alumnus who still lives in the town of Unity. “A lot of us would like to see this hybrid program. But let’s have it back home and put it back on the flagship campus.”
That 240-acre main campus in Unity has been very quiet for months. It’s currently off-limits to the public, and last August, the school cut or furloughed nearly 30 percent of its workforce ahead of an announcement that it would “permanently eliminate” its traditional campus model and explore the potential for selling the campus.
Unity College students have been all-remote since the pandemic began, and did not return to campus at all during this academic year.
Khoury said this week that the school is constantly evaluating its properties for potential repurpose and value, but as of now, nothing has been listed for sale. He pointed out that it has been a very hard time for higher education, and the pandemic has not eased the stress.
“We were looking at where the world is,” he said of last summer’s announcement.
The new technical institute will not affect the decision on whether to bring students back to the Quaker Hill Road campus, he said, adding that officials will make that decision in May.
Still, this year there have been lots of Unity College students taking classes remotely, though they no longer crowd the school’s classrooms and athletic fields, or the coffee shops and pizza parlors of their namesake community.
More than 1,600 students are registered right now, Khoury said. Almost 20 percent of the current student body is multicultural right now, more than double the rate of the last two decades, he said. The average age has gone from 19 to 30, and a record number of military veterans are able to access environmental education through the hybrid model.
“Serving these different audiences I think is something that we’re really proud of,” Khoury said. “More students are able to graduate with environmental degrees … That’s why we’re here. That’s what I’m proud of.”
Still, many alumni are struggling to find traces of the school they attended in Unity College’s new iterations, Bassett said.
“It feels like we’re losing a lot,” he said. “I get it. I look at the bigger picture and see all these colleges closing. But it doesn’t feel like the Unity that we all know.”
Khoury said that he hopes after the pandemic, students will want to come back to the Quaker Hill Road campus and that things will get back to some kind of normal.
“But I think the concept of normal has to change,” he said. “I think the world is changing, and we are adapting.”