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Unity College Considers Selling Waldo County Campus As It Transitions To Hybrid Learning Model

Susan Sharon
Maine Public File
As part of the move, the college is also exploring selling any of its assets, including its rural Waldo County campus.

Unity College announced Monday that it plans to move away from a traditional, in-person learning model to a hybrid one. Officials say the transition is intended to give students more options and reduce tuition costs. As part of the move, the college is also exploring selling any of its assets, including its rural Waldo County campus.

In a statement on its website, the college announced that due to the effects of COVID-19, which had left the school with a projected "$12-14 million revenue shortfall in the 2020-21 year," it would be laying off 15 percent of its staff and would furlough an additional 11 percent. "These difficult decisions were implemented to ensure that Unity College can continue to support our current students, and position ourselves for the institutions long-term viability," the school wrote.

Unity College President Melik Peter Khoury describes the new "hybrid" model as one offering students choice, both in terms of how and where they learn. Instead of two semesters, and a centralized college campus, he envisions a structure with eight, five-week terms instead, with a mix of in-person and remote classes, and students no longer required to spend four years and tens of thousands of dollars to study in one location.

“Where a student can take one or two courses, graduate, accelerate, slow down, step out instead of drop out, and really work towards the changing face of America, that might not be able to afford to take a $35,000 loan and hope for the best,” Khoury says.

As part of that plan, the school will invest in more remote learning opportunities, including at other campus properties in places such as Jackman and Bar Harbor. In addition, the school's Board of Trustees has authorized school leaders to explore the sale of "any assets," including some or all of its main Unity campus.

Khoury emphasized that moving forward, decisions would be made based on students' demands — that the school will continue to provide a campus experience if students want it, but that it will help students explore others options too.

“Maybe the future of Unity is all. But if it isn't, each and every one of our different locations and modalities will have an equal ability to look at their viability. And not be a second-class, if you will, to the residential model.”

The decision comes as dozens of colleges across Maine have been forced to cancel events and programming and move online, cutting into tuition revenues. While many colleges in the state plan to reopen in the fall, Unity has said that it will stick with remote learning for the time being.

Khoury says that currently traditional enrollment is down by about one-third for the fall, and the school is hoping that the new options will give students more flexibility, particularly with uncertainty around the virus going forward.

Unity Town Selectman Penny Picard Sampson says that as a town leader and graduate of Unity with two family members who work at the college, she was "shocked" by the news that the school could possibly explore the sale of its campus. Sampson says Unity students and faculty have long played a major role in the community.

“You know, half of our fire departments are college students,” says Sampson. “Several members of the ambulance service are college students. Every year, I would work with college students cleaning gravestones at a cemetery. All this stuff adds up — to the value having people on-campus and involved in the community.”

Khoury says he understands concerns about the changes, but he believes the new approach will offer more opportunities, especially for students who may not have been able to afford the traditional on-campus model in the past.

Updated at 11:48 a.m. Aug. 4, 2020.

Originally published at 5:50 p.m. Aug 3, 2020.