Adapting to Disruption: Unity University’s Remarkable Success – Part 1:

Changing Higher Ed podcast 194 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Dr. Melik Peter Khoury

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Podcast 194- Adapting to Disruption-Unity University's Remarkable Success-Part 1 with Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Dr. Melik Khoury
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

February 13, 2024 · Episode 194

Adapting to Disruption: Unity University's Remarkable Success - Part 1

34 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

Discover how Unity Environmental University thrived under Dr. Melik Khoury, embracing disruption for significant growth and sustainability in higher ed.

 

Transforming Higher Education Through Disruption and Growth: The Unity Environmental University Success Model

In an era where higher education institutions are challenged to adapt to disruption, Dr. Melik Khoury, President of Unity Environmental University, offers an inspiring narrative of transformative growth and forward momentum in an agile and sustainable higher education business model.

Steering Unity from 540 students and a $14 million budget to an impressive enrollment of over 7,500 and a budget of $58 million, Dr. Khoury has cut tuition in half and significantly reduced institutional debt. This exceptional growth, achieved amidst and in the wake of a global pandemic, illustrates a comprehensive transformation of conventional governance and operational norms in higher education.

Join us as in this two-part series as Dr. Khoury elucidates how adopting a disruptive stance can catalyze growth and bolster the reputation of tuition-dependent universities, reshaping the educational landscape for the better.

Our Historic Academic Business Model is Cracking Under Modern Pressure

The academic models and regulatory systems imported from Europe centuries ago no longer hold up to the changes in higher education funding models post-evolution to loan-based funding. Seventy-five percent of the universities and colleges that have closed or merged over the last five years were not under regulatory watch and/or warning or probation because our measuring stick does not meet the realities of the 21st-century institution.

Academia is excellent at identifying the problem. We are excellent at deconstructing it.  But we have not been as good as we should be as an entire industry in changing our processes and our governance to adapt to what the market is telling us, what the employer is telling us, what the citizens are telling us, and what government is telling us (not to be confused with government interference).

 

High Achievement Growth in Institutional Performance

Unity went from 540 students to over 7,500, and expecting 10,000 within the next 2 years. Graduation rates are high, alternative loans are less than 3%, and placement rates are over 80%. Khoury’s rules for achieving those big successes are:

  1. Never be the smartest person in the room.
  2. Be willing to (metaphorically) take a punch in the face and not fall down.
  3. Figure out what you’re really trying to do.

 

Building a Sustainable and Agile Enterprise Model

Building an Enterprise Model requires thinking outside the one-size-fits-all model to create a new program and model that delivers what potential students want, delivers it in an adaptable model that lets students shift when they want or need, and does not compromise on the pedagogy or the experience based on the student type.

Sustainable Education Business Units (SEBUs)

Creating distinct, independent Sustainable Education Business Units (SEBUs): structuring the model into independent delivery mechanisms that utilize centralized shared services.

Unity currently has three academic SEBUs and one business ventures SEBU:

 

They are segmenting verticals and treating them as subsidiaries with their own faculty, staff, and P&L. When learning designers, faculty, and staff focus on the adult place-bound student, they don’t have to compromise for the faculty, learning designer, or staff working on the community college commuter program, the residential program, or the like. It allows the creation of programs, calendars, tuitions, and service types without the one-size-fits-all confines and compromises.

 

The Enterprise Model Non-traditional Org Chart Overview

Position

Responsibilities

Authority

Enterprise Chief Officer

Decision-making for centralized functions

Centralized decision-making authority

Enterprise Senior Staff

Compliance, assessment, policy enforcement

Enforcing brand standards, no unnecessary internal competition

Enterprise Chief Academic Officer

Internal accreditation, program assessment, ensuring institutional standards are met

Decentralized role, reports to the VP, ensuring subsidiary’s compliance

Subsidiary CEO (VP level)

Decision-making for decentralized functions

Decentralized decision-making authority

Subsidiary Dean

Overseeing academic affairs within the subsidiary

Authority within the subsidiary

Subsidiary Assistant VP

Support role for the Dean, academic administration

Authority within the subsidiary

Subsidiary Associate VP

Academic administration, support for Dean

Authority within the subsidiary

Subsidiary Executive VP

High-level academic administration within the subsidiary

Authority within the subsidiary

Subsidiary President

Eventual leadership role for large subsidiaries

Authority within the subsidiary

 

Unity’s organizational structure emphasizes a balance between centralized decision-making for the enterprise and decentralized decision-making for subsidiaries. The enterprise ensures compliance, assessment, and policy enforcement, while subsidiaries have authority over their own affairs within established guidelines. Roles are differentiated based on the level of responsibility within the enterprise or subsidiary.

 

Efficient Curriculum Development: Streamlining Processes and Reducing Delays

Unity’s approach to curriculum development involves collaboration between departments to avoid duplication and ensure uniqueness. They employ a model where departments “buy” courses from each other rather than creating duplicates, aiming to streamline processes and reduce the lengthy delays often encountered in traditional models.

For example, if one department desires an online course, it procures it from another department specializing in online education. This ensures consistency in the curriculum and facilitates smoother credit transfers. Additionally, Unity redefines traditional faculty roles, enabling curriculum design and pedagogy experts to collaborate with subject matter experts in creating courses tailored to meet learning outcomes.

 

Part 1: Final Thoughts 

Dr. Melik Khoury’s stewardship of Unity Environmental University showcases a pivotal model for higher education, proving that institutions can flourish through innovation and strategic adaptation. Unity’s journey from modest beginnings to remarkable growth encapsulates a forward-thinking approach that combines resilience with a clear vision for the future. This story serves as a valuable lesson for educational leaders: embracing change and reimagining traditional models can not only navigate challenges but also unlock unprecedented success and sustainability.

 

 Listen to Part 2 of this podcast with Dr. Melik Khoury →

 

About Our Podcast Guest

Dr. Melik Peter Khoury is the 11th President and CEO of Unity Environmental University headquartered in New Gloucester, Maine. He holds a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA), from the University of Phoenix, an MBA from the University of Maine Orono, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from the University of Maine at Fort Kent. During his time as President, he has led efforts to transform Unity Environmental University into a sustainable, student centric institution of higher education by focusing on three core principles – affordability, accessibility, and flexibility. As a result, he has expanded its programs while growing its enrollment and national footprint exponentially.

 

About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host of Changing Higher Ed® podcast, is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.

 

Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 
Adapting to Disruption: Unity University’s Remarkable Success – Part 1 
Changing Higher Ed podcast 194 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Dr. Melik Peter Khoury

[00:31:05] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you, David. Our guest today is Dr. Melik Khoury, President of Unity Environmental University. Melik has had a long career in higher education, positions that include CFO, CAO Provost, SVP for External Affairs, etc., etc. But what really distinguishes Melik are his unique skills that enable him to guide institutions through times of disruption.

[00:31:30] When he took over at Unity about seven or eight years ago, he had 500 students, an operating budget of 14 million. Now, Unity’s enrollment is over 7, 500. Its budget is 58 million. He’s cut tuition by half and cut the debt in half as well. And this growth came during and post pandemic. How did he do this?

[00:31:54] He’s turned the traditional governance and operating structures in higher ed on their respective heads, and he joins us today to talk about the unity miracle, how a disruptor like himself can drive growth and reputation in a tuition dependent university.

[00:32:11] Melik, welcome back to the show. It’s great to see you again.

[00:32:15] Melik Khoury: Same here, my friend. Always glad to be back. It’s been a while.

[00:32:18] Drumm McNaughton: It has been a while. I think the last time we did this, it was what, two, three years ago.

[00:32:24] Melik Khoury: Yes, we were just kind of coming out of the pandemic and trying to figure out where the world of higher ed is going and Unity’s role in it.

[00:32:33] Drumm McNaughton: Well, you guys have done some amazing things. You’ve been at Unity for what, about seven years?

[00:32:39] Melik Khoury: as president, a little over six, as an employee, almost, 11 and a half.

[00:32:44] Drumm McNaughton: Okay, so you had a good grounding before you stepped into the big chair.

[00:32:48] Melik Khoury: Yes, sir.

[00:32:49] Drumm McNaughton: Well, in looking at the results that you have gained since taking over, I am absolutely floored. I mean, going from 500 students to over 7, 500 at that point, I don’t know too many institutions, whether your name is Arizona State, whether your name is SNHU or anybody else, who has had that kind of growth, and growth that’s meaningful because you’ve got a lot of good graduates.

[00:33:19] Before we get into this miracle of Unity Environmental University. And I, you know, use the term miracle because when I compare you to other higher ed institutions nowadays, nobody’s getting these kinds of results. I’d like to hear more about your background, how you got here because you’ve had a very nontraditional background for higher education.

[00:33:43] Melik Khoury: Yes. I would say that I am the target demographic for institutions of higher ed these days that are looking to thrive. I came from a relatively low socioeconomic background. I’m a first generation American. I believe that higher education could change my life.

And I was lucky enough after, you know, growing up in West Africa, coming to the U. S. You know, I was lucky in the sense that I was one of those few that got that opportunity that many hadn’t that acceptance letter that got me into that bucolic campus that changed my life. And, professionally, you know, I grew up in a very densely populated community in a port city in West Africa, and I really got to understand trade and commerce and cultural competency.

[00:34:35] I worked both in the hospitality industry and in the corporate world a little bit, but I’ve really spent the last 30 years of my life kind of homing in my skills as to, different types of educational models, working at a system, state school, working at an R1 school, going to a small private college, looking at an online school or a hybrid school.

[00:35:01] I worked at a traditional residential, Christian school, so I have been blessed with the perspective of how all these colleges are so different, yet sometimes viewed as a monolith in the higher education landscape.

[00:35:16] Drumm McNaughton: That’s amazing because normally you’ll see Presidents such as yourself who come up through the academic ranks, they stay with publics or privates. They generally don’t cross over back and forth. You’ve done it differently and it’s given you a very unique perspective on the importance of higher ed and how the institution needs to be structured to be most effective.

[00:35:45] Melik Khoury: Yes. I mean, I knew, at a very young age the power of an educated society, and I came into higher education with this mind’s eye of perfection. And as I started to learn a little bit, both as a student, you know, I’ve been very lucky, I have I’ve done the residential experience as an undergrad. I’ve done the R1 experience at a master’s program, and I’ve done the online with my doctorate. And looking at how different the populations we serve, the pedagogical approaches, and the like, it was important to me to stop looking at education as a one size fits all.

So, I made it a point in my career, whether it was on the academic track, where I was a faculty member, whether it was in the enrollment track, in the athletics track, in the administrative track, in the student success track, I made it a point in my career to really work in these different environments many a times the one position that nobody wanted.

[00:36:47] And actually, if you look back in my career before Unity and even Unity, I always held a position that did not exist before I was hired. And, I even remember my last institution, my president and I talking about creating a title that would provide him and I and the team a space to be able to look at new things without being put in a box.

[00:37:10] So, yes, having those experiences, both as a learner and as a faculty member and as an administrator was very intentional on my part because I believe in this, idea that everyone deserves an education. But I kind of felt like there was something missing because we all built an ideal that I don’t think is sustainable.

[00:37:32] And that’s kind of been the labor of love of my career, if you will.

[00:37:35] Drumm McNaughton: Wow, I mean, I’ve heard of people doing these kind of things, but to actually have a conversation with a genius who has done it. Completely impressive.

[00:37:48] Melik Khoury: I appreciate the compliments, but I will say that I know a lot of people that are smarter than me. What they have lacked historically has been the perspective, because when you are told the world is flat and you’re not educated to know it isn’t, all you know is that the world is flat and I needed to find out for myself because I saw how many students could not graduate from these colleges that were supposedly perfect.

I saw the kind of backlash for institutions like ASU, like Western Governors, like Southern New Hampshire, who did more than I have ever been able to accomplish 20 years before me and how people viewed them, even though they support a majority of students, that these perfect institutions fail.

[00:38:36] I saw where the elites were being viewed as the perfect solution for my mid tier campus, but I had neither the brand equity nor the endowment, and I said, something has to change. And I thought I would be welcomed because we talk about higher education being the cornerstone of thought leadership and adaptability, unless it was really about us.

[00:39:01] Drumm McNaughton: So very true. And it really brings me to the point of thinking, well maybe one size fits all doesn’t work. Which to me is the beauty of Unity, because you have tailored your approach, you know, pedagogical as well as structures to one particular topic, environmental science, multiple ways to slice and dice that, and you’re meeting the customer where the customer is, and I use that customer term because higher ed is a business, our customers are our students, our parents, and the industries that we serve and where our graduates go.

[00:39:45] So one size doesn’t fit all anymore.

[00:39:50] Melik Khoury: No, I mean, if you think about pre-1965, the only institutions that really existed were the institution of means, where the perspective of those institutions was to weed out the best of the best and basically everybody else had to do something else.

In 1965, we decided that that model was working so well for the elite, that every American and hopefully someday every citizen deserved that level of education, because think of the power of a truly educated society that is civic minded and is culturally competent. But then we took an unscalable model and then launched it and then seed funded it. Hence, all of these colleges and universities sprouted, funded it quite well for a few years.

[00:40:40] Then about 20 years later, we decided, hey, let’s stop funding it with grants, let’s start funding it with loans. And as the financial model started to stress, the entire governance model was still the one model that existed that was brought over from Europe.

[00:40:59] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm.

[00:41:00] Melik Khoury: And that’s when the cracks started about 20 years ago.

[00:41:04] And that’s why, you know, I know you know this, but 75 percent of the universities and colleges that have closed or merged, over the last five years, we’re not under regulatory watch and or warning and or probation because our measuring stick does not meet the realities of the 21st century, institution.

[00:41:27] Drumm McNaughton: Yeah, I, I agree. We’re going to get into the regulatory in just a little bit, but I really want to back to what you said is mergers. We’re having a lot of going out of school. We’re in a period of disruption at this point. Are we not?

[00:41:43] Melik Khoury: Absolutely. And like any, period of disruption, I’ve been amazed by the amount of denial around that. I think some of it is our own inability to adapt to a changing world.

[00:41:56] Drumm McNaughton: Wait, wait a minute. Denial. Isn’t that a river in Egypt?

[00:42:01] Melik Khoury: That’s, yes, it is. And I wish this conversation was about geography. But unfortunately, it’s about the notion that, we have always been the great white shark. We have never had to evolve, and we don’t like the fact that Godzilla has now entered the scene.

[00:42:20] Drumm McNaughton: So we can’t ignore what’s going on anymore. You know, we’ve got major demographic shifts. the costs are going up. I mean, we could spend a full podcast on just talking about all the disruptors.

[00:42:33] Melik Khoury: Correct. But, you know, at the end of the day, I think that’s what we in academics do very well. We are excellent at identifying the problem. We are excellent at deconstructing it. But we have not been as good as we should be as an entire industry to changing our processes and our governance to adapt to what the market is telling us, what the employer is telling us, what the citizens are telling us, and what government is telling us.

[00:43:05] And I don’t mean that as in government interference. I mean that as we, we generate civic minded people who then vote, who then practice in civil service and run for select people and do volunteer work. The world is changing and we never evolved from that elite 5 percent best of the best, west Point, Harvard, et cetera.

[00:43:33] Drumm McNaughton: I’m, I’m totally offended cause you didn’t mention the Naval Academy in that same thing, but you mentioned West Point. So, you know, it’s been nice having you on the show.

[00:43:42] Melik Khoury: I’m so sorry. I have a habit of doing that.

[00:43:46] Drumm McNaughton: No. So, but I think it’s interesting to point you bring up because we haven’t evolved and Davos just finished, just recently. And when we were speaking the other day, you said something that was really profound to me. Davos, they’re not even considering higher education anymore.

[00:44:05] Melik Khoury: No, I mean, if you were to watch the World Economic Forum, I mean, there’s a real concern. I mean, they’ve got problems that are well above my pay grade. So I am not going to even attempt to be an expert on world economic affairs. However, it was interesting as they were talking about artificial intelligence, as they were talking about workforce and economic growth, and which economic model is the right one.

[00:44:29] Nowhere in that conversation was higher ed viewed as the solution. If anything, there were conversations around the need for them to embrace technology and be more adaptable. And I thought that was a shame, because where better than an academic institution to be the thought leader and innovator in chief for any government or corporation that is looking to transform. When did we not become the alternative choice as an industry?

[00:44:58] Drumm McNaughton: maybe it was because we didn’t transform ourselves?

[00:45:02] Melik Khoury: That is true, and I do think so, but to your point from the monolith, I do believe that universities and colleges out there, who are doing amazing work in working with corporations, working with foundations, working with organizations, working with governments to support their workforce and their research and their learning, tend to get a lot less attention than the, the cacophony of the mid tiered institutional, Ichabod crucible cry out of foul every time we shift the comma in the English syllabus.

[00:45:41] Drumm McNaughton: You mean syllabus?

[00:45:44] Melik Khoury: Sure.

[00:45:45] Drumm McNaughton: Yeah.

[00:45:46] Melik Khoury: Let’s dissect that or the enrollment people who don’t see beyond the SAT score. I remember a school that shall not be named who as part of the enrollment process, admissions process, was if the parents weren’t married, they were devalued as a candidate. Yeah.

[00:46:06] Drumm McNaughton: Wow, never heard of that one.

[00:46:08] Melik Khoury: and we used to call that fit.

[00:46:11] Drumm McNaughton: Ah, okay.

[00:46:14] Melik Khoury: I think what is our mission to weed out the top 5 percent of the world and bring them to our elite organization, or is our job to create a baseline of education for a decent society? And I say the latter is as important as the former, but higher education governance, higher education funding, higher education modeling, tends to be around the former not the latter, and the latter gets no credit.

[00:46:44] Because if you look at what ASU has been able to do with their R1, their residential, their online, their for profit, they are the ultimate transformation of being nimble.

[00:47:00] Drumm McNaughton: And they’re training graduates for real world jobs.

[00:47:05] Melik Khoury: And that doesn’t mean that those graduates aren’t educated. That’s the other false dichotomy, Drumm. This idea that you’re either skill based or well educated is the biggest lie that needs to be debunked. Because you need a baseline of critical thinking and cultural competency and exposure. But you also need to be ready for your first career. So it’s an and not an or and we sometimes speak of that as an or.

[00:47:35] You know, I’ll say to you, I had this argument not too long ago, I said, I completely and utterly respect Stanford’s Environmental and Sustainability program that is very well funded and brings in the best and the brightest to graduate the leaders of tomorrow.

[00:47:52] I, however, don’t want to be them because they are hiring tens and hundreds and thousands of people who have no idea about climate change, who have no idea about the green economy. So creating those who know, not having a workforce and a citizenry that can support that is what is going on right now.

[00:48:16] And if these, institutions all want to be the Naval Academy or West Point or Stanford, then why are we saying that education is important? And then when we don’t see it then we start to have this public discourse that education isn’t worth it. Have you ever seen what it means to be an uneducated society? Do you know how easy that population is to manipulate and mislead? We have an obligation to create a baseline.

[00:48:49] Drumm McNaughton: I fully agree.

**Now let’s swap horses just a little bit, because when you took over at unity, you had what, 540 students? You’re now up over 7, 500 and you’re expecting 10, 000 within two years. Those are some amazing, amazing numbers, but more importantly, your graduation rates are very good, your alternative loans less than 3%, your placement rate for graduates is over 80%, toot your own horn, how did this, this is not easy numbers to, to come to.

**[00:49:28] Melik Khoury: Rule number one, don’t be the smartest person in the room. And I always made sure I wasn’t. Rule number two, be willing to take a punch in the face and not fall down. Rule number three, figure out what you’re really trying to do, and what we were really trying to do is provide access to an environmental science education to a population that wanted but could not afford bucolic residential program.

**[00:49:55] And so when we looked at ourselves, we did not have the subsidy, nor the endowment, to create a moat and be self-sustaining. We had to be revenue generating. As less and less students were able to afford the four year residential model. And in a regular governance structure, we would have tried to have a one size fit all. Like many schools try to do with transfers and adults and vets, but all through a singular lens, and they would have failed.

**When we realized that the thirst for environmental science education was there, but there were more people who are place bound and, adults, couldn’t afford the approach we said, okay, how can we create a model that gives every student what they want, allowed them to shift when they needed to. But not compromise on the pedagogy or the experience based on that student type. So we came up with the enterprise model.

**Think of it as a system office if you will. But instead of looking at our campuses by location, we looked at them by audience. So, when my learning designers, when my faculty, when my staff are focusing on the adult place bound student, they don’t have to compromise for the faculty and learning designer and staff who are working on the community college commuter program. Or on the residential program and the like, and that allowed us to really look at our audiences and create programs and calendars and tuitions and service types without always having to have the conversation of one size fit all, how do we compromise? Now, what we didn’t realize was just how much shift there was going to be towards one of our subsidiaries. We expected more of a balance based on the research, but most folks have really shifted towards our online programs, our remote programs. But those other programs continue to exist and be separate because things change. We don’t know where the world is going to end up with educational pedagogy, but we want to have the muscle to adapt, and that’s what we did.

**[00:52:09] And once we did that, my recruiters, my faculty, my learning designers, my staff were able to focus on their own audiences, and we were able to rapidly change calendars, tuition, like we don’t do the discounting model, we didn’t have to talk to a vet who was 37 years old with three daughters in high school, that they had to come to the residential campus for an ice cream social because that’s what we do at orientation.

**[00:52:35] And just by segmenting those verticals and treating them as subsidiaries, with their own faculty, their own staff, their own P& L. We were really able to lean into the student first approach and it’s been well received.

[00:52:49] Drumm McNaughton: So, so let’s, so that the audience keeps up with us because you and I both understand the model we’ve been over. You’ve lived it for multiple years.

**What you’ve done is you’ve structured the university into four delivery mechanisms.

[00:53:05] Melik Khoury: Yes.

[00:53:05] Drumm McNaughton: You’ve been focusing on the role of your vision and your mission in each of these areas. So, take us through and explain to us what you’ve done as far as the structure of the university, and then from there we’ll go into the overall governance model.

[00:53:25] Melik Khoury: Sure. So we implemented something called the enterprise model. Think of it as a system office or, you know, the federal. And then something we call a sustainable educational business unit. Think of them as vertical subsidiaries.

[00:53:39] Drumm McNaughton: That’s what you call, SEBUs, right?

[00:53:42] Melik Khoury: Yes.

[00:53:42] Drumm McNaughton: Okay.

**[00:53:44] Melik Khoury: And I like to use nomenclature that is not higher ed organic because it has given my employees an opportunity to release the baggage of the words that have been co-opted to traditionalism and really allowed them to, you know, the enterprise, that’s central office.

[00:54:01] So we went through every function of the institution and said this needs to be centralized. That means the decision is made at system office. This needs to be decentralized, that means that is done at the subsidiary office. And by having that balance and have and constantly shifting that, we were able to prioritize adaptability and change over process, where our process is kept changing to meet our outcomes.

[00:54:29] And so we have distance education, which really serves primarily place bound adult students. We have hybrid learning, think of it as on campus with online, options. We have the Technical Institute for Environmental Professions, which is where we are looking at associate degrees for the green workforce. And we have sustainable ventures, think of it as revenue generating manifestations of our curriculum.

We have a hospitality program. We own a lodge. And also, our B2B noncredit experience. And allowing each of those subsidiaries to cross sell with each other but create their own handbooks, their own calendars, their own tuition, their own service levels. But yet have the enterprise be our own internal auditors, has given us unprecedented ability to measure our success, cross train and adapt, which is why we don’t have committees at Unity.

We don’t vote at Unity. We’ve adapted a role scope and authority approach at Unity and trying to align somebody’s accountability and responsibility with the authority where instead of trying to get game consensus, you need to garner engagement and make a tough decision. And that’s our structure.

[00:55:46] And subsidiaries can be added or closed, but the enterprise is a constant.

**[00:55:53] Drumm McNaughton: So, you’ve got your primary staff, you have your board that you answer to, you have yourself. You have senior staff, you have a provost or a chief academic officer, and then you have the Deans or the CEOs of the SEBUs. One of the things I find really interesting is how much authority and responsibility you have delegated to your Deans.

**[00:56:20] Melik Khoury:  So, our nomenclature, like I said, I like to use differentiated names. So, if you are in the enterprise and you are a chief officer and we have 10 functions, if you are in the subsidiaries, you are in the vice-presidential track. And your title is predicated on the size of your portfolio. Dean, assistant VP, associate VP, executive VP, and someday one of our subsidiaries will be big enough to have a president of its own.

So, if the function or the unit is deemed as decentralized, the authority is with the VP. And the enterprise plays compliance, assessment, and policy to ensure our brand is not harmed. There is no internal unnecessary competition between subsidiaries and the like. If the unit is centralized, then it is the chief officer’s decision. So, for example, a subsidiary cannot change their deficit or take out debt without talking to corporate office. That’s centralized, but they can shift their investments within their budgets to accelerate or shift a program and the like.

[00:57:37] So that’s the balance that we have. And that is why my chief academic officer, the faculty of each subsidiary do not report to her. They report in just like the enrollment people to the VP. She plays a truly decentralized role. To ensure that our accreditation, our program assessments, our rigor, et cetera, meeting the institutional standards.

[00:58:05] So almost like an internal accreditor, an internal regulator, an internal compliance officer. And so the faculty, you know, we don’t have a traditional faculty. Each subsidiary has its own construct reporting within that subsidiary.

[00:58:21] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm. And so, you put a tremendous amount of responsibility on the CEOs of each of the SEBUs.

[00:58:30] Melik Khoury: Yes.

[00:58:32] Drumm McNaughton: SEBUs don’t have committees, they have working groups. Each one has its own curriculum and assessment committees. Who is responsible for the overall, say, accreditation?

[00:58:44] Melik Khoury: The accreditation is centralized. So those committees or working groups, we have enterprise representation at those groups, and enterprise has to approve all curricular changes outside of the policies that have been approved. So once we create the box, work in the box as much as you want, but you can’t change the box without coming to system office.

[00:59:08] Drumm McNaughton: Okay. Well that makes sense. When I ran the curriculum committee at one University we had all of the different programs represented, the different colleges etc., but we also had people from your enterprise model, i.e., marketing or Student enrollment things like that, so that they had input in the curriculum decisions that were being made. It worked much smoother than just having them siloed within the college and then, you know, you go through the curriculum committee for the college, you go up to the curriculum committee for the university, and by the time you’re all finished approving the program, it’s two years later.

[00:59:49] Melik Khoury: And we’ve got very different way of doing that. And I will say the only difference between that is that the enterprise academics sits at that table to make sure that there is no duplication of effort, because one of the key things we want to make sure is that our subsidiaries don’t look similar. They have to be differentiated. So our residential program should not be thinking about online pedagogy. If they want online, they buy it from distance ed. If distance ed wants a expeditionary course, they buy it from residential because that is their pedagogical authority. And the academic affairs side of the house ensures that everybody plays within those site.

[01:00:31] Drumm McNaughton: That’s interesting. You use the term “buy from”. Tell me about that.

[01:00:37] Melik Khoury: For example, right now, our hybrid learning program, they have a residential course. Let’s say English 101. They are the pedagogical experts and they’ve designed an in person English 101. If they decide as a subsidiary that they want a white label or they want an online English 101 as a substitute, they don’t build it. They go to distance ed, they work to make sure that the program learning outcomes and the course learning outcomes match, and they buy it from them. So when the hybrid learning student takes an English 101 online course, they are taking it from distance education, not from hybrid learning. When a distance education student is taking an in person course, they are taking it from hybrid learning.

[01:01:24] And what we have done, because we have broken down our pricing structure from recruitment, advising, curriculum, IT, and the like, we have an internal price where every student in hybrid that takes an online course, they take part of that tuition and pay distance ed and vice versa.

[01:01:42] Drumm McNaughton: And it has the additional benefit of making sure that all English courses, whether it be English 101, 102, 103, it’s the same curriculum modified for the delivery, but it’s got the same student learning outcomes so that if someone were to transfer out or in, it would be very easy to verify those credits.

[01:02:08] Melik Khoury: Absolutely. Just like we would accept transfer credits from another university and they would accept ours. I mean, if you really break down a curriculum to outcomes, not courses and design courses to meet outcomes, it’s a lot easier than designing a bunch of courses and putting them within the fabric.

[01:02:27] That’s why when we bifurcated the concept of faculty at Unity, we created things like curriculum designers, academic administrator, teacher, researcher, advisor, instructional designers, now we call them learning designers, and gave them an equal seat at the table depending on the situation, because asking a faculty member who is an expert in, let’s say, biology, to have all of those skills is an impossibility.

[01:02:57] And so by doing that, I’ve got people looking at curriculum, I’ve got people looking at pedagogy. And then they bring in the subject matter expert. And help them create that course, whether it’s asynchronous online, competency based, residential, or expeditionary. It’s a completely different idea than hiring a PhD out of Stanford, giving them a syllabi and saying, go teach that class.

[01:03:24] Drumm McNaughton: Folks, this wraps up the first part of our conversation with Malik Khoury. Tune in next week for the conclusion of our conversation. It’s going to be great and we’re going to go into a whole bunch of different areas.

[01:03:40] Thanks for listening, and a special thank you to Dr. Melik Khoury, President of Unity Environmental University, for joining us today.

[01:03:47] Tune in next week for the conclusion of this podcast as we explore Unity’s structures and processes that he’s used to get them where they are today, the lessons he’s learned along the way, and how you, too, can duplicate his success. Thanks again for listening. See you next week.

 

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