Unity College Hires Online-Exclusive Faculty and Staff

Many faculty members came through the academy with a traditional approach to the classroom, the flipped classroom, and similar traditional educational models in mind. Whatever their pedagogical preferences, those faculty members possess critical, relevant content. They know what to teach.

But then came distance education. And traditional faculty members often didn’t know how to teach the content they knew so well in a technology-rich environment. Not all faculty members are experts in the same kinds of teaching, anyway. Some are great lecturers, others are great practitioners, and a few are great technologists.

How can an institution train and support faculty to teach in traditional and online formats?

Dr. Melik Khoury, President of Unity College, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about a creative solution for staffing faculty and staff who are specifically excited to teach your online courses.

Hiring a Wholly Separate Distance Education Staff

“In any organization, different parts of your employee base are interested in doing different things,” Melik told us. “We have a number of faculty members who have been teaching for years in a very traditional, highly tactile way.”

For five years, Unity worked to integrate technology into each class. Now, all Unity College faculty members use the online platform. Some just use it as a supplement to their face-to-face classes.

But eventually the college leadership came to a few faculty members and said, “Okay, we’re going to create this online program. It’s not for everyone. Instead of trying to take a traditional, curriculum, traditional pedagogy and trying to shove it into an online module, how many of you are interested in doing (something new)?”

It’s unfair for a faculty member to learn an entirely new way of teaching when what you are doing is working for you. So at Unity, those members who wanted to incorporate technology into traditional pedagogy can do that. Those who want to teach in the online market can take advantage of college-sponsored training by curriculum designers.

Why force faculty to do something they don’t love when you can find faculty who will love it?

Online teaching is different. It has a different calendar, cadence, and market. So Unity didn’t separate its on-campus and online faculty because people didn’t want to teach, but because the school didn’t want to force square pegs in round holes.

As Melik told us, “By creating that separation, different governance, different curriculum, different all of that, it really lent itself to a different market. We were able to create distinct but equally attractive programs. One that served the traditional, freshman transfer for the campus and one that served adults.

Creating Alignment and Avoiding Competition

At Unity College, the chief academic officer oversees all curriculum, and the school leaders treat program development with care.

“There’s enough competition with other colleges,” Melik said. “The students who are on our online program, I would say 95% of them would never come to campus. So what we’re able to do is really bifurcate the knowledge into different ways of delivering the curriculum.”

Consequently, both the residential and online faculty are doing the best for their programs, realizing that each goes after a different audience. In higher education, you are supposed to serve the public good. Competition inhibits our ability to do that well.

“We designed this so that they’re going after different markets,” Melik said. “My
residential campus, which I call the flagship, they are recruiting residential traditional students, who want to come and spend the two to four years on campus. My online are looking at working adults, workloads, workforce development people,and  people with master’s degrees who already have a job who are looking for continuing education.”

Online and on-campus programs don’t have to compete with each other. By offering both, Unity is expanding its audience.

Finding Efficiencies with Two Different Faculties

From the beginning, Unity made sure that its flagship campus faculty did not have to distract itself. “But wherever there are opportunities to share knowledge, to maximize work,” Melik said, “we do that.”

At the genesis of Unity’s online program, its residential campus was almost at capacity so the school was eager to grow in a different away as long as the concept was well thought out.

“Before we went one step forward,” Melik said, “we decided as a college, what are the services that are going to be centralized, and what were the services that are going to be decentralized?”

Technology, Unity decided, should be centralized, but recruitment would be decentralized — different marketing materials and different recruiters for a different market.

Next-Steps Advice for Institutions Considering Online-Exclusive Staffing

“You need to go into this forcefully,” Melik said. “If you’re doing this because it’s a revenue generator alone, I think it’s a mistake. I think we need to build this because it’s an expansion of your mission and I think you need to build from the core curriculum and the core strengths.”

Some faculty members will be excited some won’t. That’s okay, but in general, this change has to be viewed as a new adventure.

Of course, you can’t go from zero to fully functional in a year, but you can create revenue goals and build a capacity for reaching break even.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Dr. Melik Khoury from Unity College. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.