Unity College recently received a $291,000 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation to galvanize a vision described by Davis as “one of most comprehensive and ambitious ever received by the Foundation.”

The funding is part of an ongoing, multi-year student success effort to design a transformative living and learning plan for the first two years of the residential undergraduate experience at a small college. The project comes at a total approximate cost of $4 million over the course of three years, with a projected launch date in fall 2020.

A previous grant from the Davis Educational Foundation and a large donation allowed Unity’s senior leadership team to identify six elements that should be integrated into an overhaul of the first two years of college: real-world engagement, living-working communities, a new financial equation, comprehensive academic credentialing, transcultural experiences, and an immersive schedule. This latest grant will focus on research into the development of a comprehensive academic credentialing system, and an immersive, potentially year-round, academic schedule.

“The world needs graduates who do things rather than simply know things. This is an ambitious endeavor to blend real-world work, co-curricular activities, and other learning opportunities into a seamless transition for our students,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, who will help guide the project. “It is clear that higher education must innovate in order to thrive. This generous investment from the Davis Educational Foundation reaffirms our ongoing mission to reinvent and reimagine what a 21st century education needs to look like.”

Analysis of a new credentialing system in the coming months will focus on the question, “How can higher educational institutions put more value on results rather than seat time?” by allowing students to earn academic credit for work currently not acknowledged on a traditional transcript. Redevelopment is motivated both by a need to provide certifications that are more significant to employers and the ability to allow students to benefit from everything they do that contributes to their professional preparation.

Even as Unity College begins to focus their credentialing on a more competency-based education valuing results over input, officials will hypothesize how to facilitate further immersion into learning experiences that take place outside the traditional classroom. Members of the college’s senior leadership believe a perennial academic calendar could lead to deeper relationships with faculty, increased access to coveted internships and jobs, and more participation in project-based study. Current traditional spring and winter semester schedules hamstring students and faculty alike by limiting environmental educational and research opportunities and constraining campus facility utilization.

“This is a meaningful statement by the Davis Educational Foundation recognizing that how students live and learn at residential colleges has changed,” said Dr. Sarah Cunningham, Chief Student Success Officer (CSSO) at Unity College, who will head the research in partnership with Dr. Erika Latty, Chief Academic Officer (CAO). “Unity College is dedicated to the idea that where the learning happens is less important than the fact that it happened. This proposal is full of good ideas, and now it’s about finding ways to turn those concepts into applicatory procedures.”

Research into a more immersive academic calendar will also bring attention to the idea of living-working communities on campus and diversifying Unity’s revenue stream through the development of campus enterprises similar to those recently featured in an article in the Washington Post. More on campus living-working communities could eventually provide real-world experiences within the college safety net while potentially helping hold tuition increases in check.

Khoury said Unity College’s unique niche as an experiential, environmental college with focus on sustainability science has kept enrollment healthy and has provided the opportunity for innovation from a position of strength.

“The outcome of this process should increase the value of a Unity College degree and serve as a much-needed new model for other small institutions looking to transition from a traditional two-semester academic design,” said President Khoury. “This funding from the Davis Educational Foundation will help us further solidify the intellectual and imaginative power, devotion and boldness of our Senior Leadership team. We’re passionate about our future.”

The grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation, established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. The foundation is an expression of the couple’s shared support and value for higher education and has provided more than $106 million in grants to more than 157 institutions.

 

Thursday, May 18, 2017