Convocation: New year, historic growth at Unity College

America’s Environmental College posts record enrollment, lauds new facilities, donations

UNITY, Maine – Unity College kicks off its 2015-16 school year with Convocation ceremonies scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29 in Tozier Gymnasium.

Convocation, the official opening of the academic year, marks the arrival of one of the largest, most academically accomplished freshman classes ever at America’s Environmental College, and comes as the campus continues growing and upgrading, as national rankings list Unity high for value and public service, as admissions applications hit an all-time high, and as record donations come in from alumni and philanthropists.

Among the hallmarks of the Unity College Class of 2019:

  • Its 247 members make it the largest freshman class in the history of Unity College.
  • Members of the admitted class hail from 28 states and one foreign country (Italy).
  • Most represented states are Maine (74), Massachusetts (52), and Connecticut (32).
  • Eight percent of the class self-identifies as a minority.
  • Average high school GPA is 3.33 — up from 3.21 in the prior freshman class.
  • Average SAT composite is 1520 — up from 1503 in the prior freshman class.
  • The gender ratio is 53% female, 47% male.

This year’s freshman class is the largest entering class ever and, when added to upperclassmen, creates the largest enrollment in the history of the college: 657 students. It is the first time in its history Unity College will enroll more than 650 students.

Also notable: Applications for admission to Unity College have increased 138% since 2012. There were 477 applications in 2012, 536 in 2013, 855 in 2014, and 1,133 in 2015.

With construction of two new residence halls in the past two years, approximately 79 percent of the student body now lives on campus, higher than the national average (70%) for four-year colleges.

Unity’s popularity comes as enrollment stagnates at small, rural, private liberal arts colleges nationally. The number of liberal arts colleges, as traditionally defined, has declined, and in its July financial outlook, the investor research service Moody’s found one in 10 public and private colleges suffers “acute financial distress” from falling revenues.

By contrast, “With three straight years of enrollment growth, dozens of new campus infrastructure improvements, and heightened interest in our unique curriculum from prospective students and the academic community, there’s never been a brighter point in our history,” said Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, executive vice president and president-elect.

Khoury will succeed Unity College President Dr. Stephen Mulkey, Unity College’s 10th president, who presided over vast improvement in campus infrastructure, managed two of the largest donations in the school’s history, and placed Unity College on the national map for its courageous decision to be the first U.S. college to divest its endowment of the Top 200 fossil fuel companies – leading the way to an international movement and defying critics with robust financial returns to the portfolio.

Pushing Unity College’s popularity in 2015-16 are recent accolades that include four national endorsements: one for innovative learning opportunities; another as one of the nation’s 32 “greenest” campuses; one as a Top 20 baccalaureate program in the US; and a fourth naming it one of America’s Top 100 “Cool Schools” for outstanding environmental commitment. (Details below.)

Over the summer, Unity College collected an anonymous $200,000 donation, dedicated a residence hall built in 2014 and completed a second new residence hall next door.

Built in the summer of 2014, Clifford Hall honors the late Bert Clifford, a Unity College founder and well-known local philanthropist. It was designed and built to LEED Silver standards by a LEED-accredited professional architect. This fall, it’s joined by another new high-efficiency residence hall – currently named Unity 2 — to meet the high demand for on-campus student housing.

Unity College, which initially enrolled 30 students at its founding, also has added 44,000 square feet of new buildings since 2013, including McKay Farm and Research Station, a multi-faceted greenhouse operation gifted to the school in December 2013. The facility serves as a direct extension of the 225-acre campus and provides Unity students with unique educational and entrepreneurial opportunities in sustainable agriculture.

“The unfolding environmental crisis and the economic crisis in higher education have created a mandate and opportunity for Unity College,” said Mulkey, who will serve out his term as president through December. “As we meet our ethical obligation to prepare students to face these challenges, our expanding enrollment shows that Unity College is positioned to meet a growing mandate for our special brand of higher education.”

Recent accolades

  • Unity College earned a national Colleges of Distinction designation in 2014–15 by “expanding innovative opportunities to earn college credit by participating in service learning, learning communities, internships, and other new educational paradigms,” according to the group Colleges of Distinction.
  • Using data from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the Best Colleges website recognized Unity College as one of the 32 “greenest universities” in the U.S. for achieving “the greatest level of success with green initiatives on-campus and within in its surrounding community.”
  • Washington Monthly ranked Unity College in the Top 20 U.S. baccalaureate colleges nationally, recognizing schools based on their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and PhDs), and Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country).
  • Sierra, the magazine of national environmental organization Sierra Club, named Unity one of its Top 100 “Cool Schools,” a national ranking open to all four-year, degree-granting undergraduate colleges and universities whose officials complete an extensive questionnaire about their campus sustainability practices.

About Unity College
Unity College proudly celebrates its 50th year in 2015. The first institution of higher education in the nation to divest from fossil fuel investments, Unity is committed to educating the next generation of environmental professionals. Sustainability science lies at the heart of its educational mission, with 16 environmentally focused undergraduate majors offered on campus. For more information, visit unity.edu.

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