A sign on the Unity College campus. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

Two years after a small liberal arts college in western Waldo County said it was abandoning plans to sell its 240-acre campus, selling it is back on the table.  

Unity Environmental University said it’s also considering other options as it increasingly focuses on online and low residency programs.

“Whether it’s leasing space, selling that property, or continuing to explore alternative uses as we seamlessly continue our transition to offering more low residency programs that are specifically designed to maximize experiential learning in dedicated environments,” the college said in a press release Thursday.

News that the college is again considering selling or otherwise using the campus for something other than students comes at a time it’s been making headlines as a potential for housing asylum seekers. The college has said it’s waiting for a written plan including how something like that would be financed.

The Unity College campus. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

The campus on Quaker Hill in Unity has been home to the college since it was created in 1965. But in recent years, the college has undergone a series of operational changes that de-emphasized the presence of students on campus under the leadership of Melik Peter Khoury, who has been the school’s president since 2016.

The college presently has about 7,500 students and has 1,000 new full-time students enrolling this summer — the institution’s largest-ever incoming class, according to the release.

“Unity remains dedicated to delivering an exceptional education that meets the needs of modern environmental learners,” Khoury said in the release.

In 2020, Unity college administrators announced that it was eliminating its traditional campus model, instead focusing on online learning and hybrid learning locals. The change came as the college said it was facing a revenue shortfall of up to $14 million for the 2020-2021 academic year. That year, the college also laid off a third of its staff.

Since then, Unity programs have shifted to a combination of online learning, hybrid learning and in-person programs at the college’s New Gloucester campus. Some courses are still offered in person in Unity, according to the college’s website, as well as at Sky Lodge in Moose River and field stations around the state. However, only a few dozen students are living on campus now.

BDN photo courtesy of Unity College Melik Peter Khoury, president of Unity College

Early this year, the college announced it was changing its name to Unity Environmental University to better reflect its mission.

The college has been the center of controversy in recent weeks as Portland officials pressed the state to use Unity’s former dorms as housing for asylum seekers. In early June, the Greater Portland Council of Governments sent a proposal to MaineHousing and the governor’s office to use the campus to house asylum seekers, stressing an immediate need for alternative housing options for a rising number of asylum seekers staying in Portland homeless shelters. On June 29, Portland’s mayor and city manager sent a letter to Gov. Janet Mills’ office urging her to accept the proposal. No response has been received yet.

Since then, Unity officials said that the college would not allow the state to use its dorms to house asylum seekers, something the college officials deny. They are waiting for a concrete plan including how it will be funded, they said.

Sarah Walker Caron is the senior editor, features, for the Bangor Daily News and the editor of Bangor Metro magazine. She’s the author of “Classic Diners of Maine,” and five cookbooks including “Easy...