Officials at Unity College say the first students will be enrolled in a new master’s degree program next fall, following state approval on Thursday to start offering the higher degree.

College President Stephen Mulkey called the approval from the Maine Board of Education clearing a “major hurdle” in getting the program started.

Unity won unanimous approval from the state board for authority to award advanced degrees. Mulkey said the school plans to begin offering the 18-month program leading to a master’s degree in professional science starting in the fall, though the school still is waiting for accreditation for the program from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

“We’ve been working on this off and on for about three years. It’s something we’ve been wanting to put together for faculty and students and for the future of the college,” Mulkey said. “Unity College needs to build a national brand in order to thrive, and this is part of a strategic plan to do exactly that.”

The degree program, which will include an internship and business management classes, will prepare students for management careers in the environmental sciences, Mulkey said. Some of the topics that will be addressed in the program include climate change, ecological change and natural resource management.

The professional science master’s program was founded in 1997 by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. As of August 2013 there were 300 programs at 137 institutions in the U.S.

There is little data available on job placement in the field, but the council found in 2013 that 77 percent of graduates who earned master’s degrees in professional science between 2011 and 2013 were employed in June 2013. Ninety-one percent of those graduates were working in their chosen field or a closely related field, according to the council.

Over the next two months, the college will be working to further develop the curriculum and specifics of the program.

“We’re excited about it. Maine is, of course, probably the best laboratory classroom in the world for studying natural resources,” Mulkey said.

Founded as the Unity Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the liberal arts college has focused on environmental studies, offering 16 majors in environmental fields, ranging from sustainable agriculture to captive wildlife care and education. The school will celebrate its 50th anniversary year beginning next summer.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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