February 15, 2011 | Suzanne Shaffer | 2 Comments Going green is a hot topic today: from recycling, to hybrid vehicles, to wind energy. So it only seems natural that colleges and universities head down that path and provide options for “green” education. When you talk about green education, there are many avenues you can pursue: sustainable energy, conservation, and environmental science are just a few. More and more students are researching these types of degree options knowing that the future job market dictates their educational pursuits. David Soto of The Princeton Review says student interest is driving colleges to create programs that offer training in sustainability. Two-thirds of students surveyed for the company’s recent “College Hopes and Worries” survey said a college’s “environmental commitment” would be a factor in where they applied. “Students are really savvy shoppers these days, so they’re realizing, with a changing economy and green jobs looking to take a leap within the next couple of years, that they want to be armed with those types of skills,” Soto says. What is a “green” degree? Traditionally, most green degrees have focused in the science and/or engineering fields. However, more colleges are seeing the need for spanning other disciplines such as law and business management. Green degrees span a wide variety of disciplines: there are “green law” degrees, environmental science degrees, environmental studies degrees, wetlands ecology degrees, climatology, human ecology, political ecology and human adaptation, to name a few. There are also environmental management and policy-related degrees, environmental engineering degrees (including green chemistry, hydrology), and even green auto-mechanic technical degrees to train people for building hybrid vehicles. How has “green” education changed over the years? Many colleges have offered environmental science and conservation degrees for years. But with today’s informed public, students are coming to colleges already educated about the environment and the need for sustainable energy and a commitment to conservation. In an article in Newsweek about “Green Degrees in Bloom”, they outlined how colleges are revamping and sprucing up their current green degree programs, while giving students a hands-on approach: As these new programs emerge, students are also changing their approach to disciplines that have long dealt with the environment. Environmental studies has been a mainstay on campuses since the early 1980s, but today’s students are more interested in practice than theory. Pfirman, for example, has taught a climate-change class at Barnard for 15 years. She says more students than ever are coming to her department and they arrive more informed, having heard about global warming throughout their childhood. “It’s a basic science class but more and more, students are asking for the policy applications,” she says. “They see the problems and they want to figure out the answers.” At the University of Virginia, Timothy Beatley has been talking about sustainability for more than a decade in his introductory urban-design course. But now his department sponsors events and activities that encourage students to put sustainability into practice. Among the most popular is the 100-Mile Thanksgiving Dinner, where members of the urban-design department try to make a Thanksgiving dinner from ingredients within a 100-mile radius of campus. “We used it as an opportunity to learn about our region,” says Beatley. “We were teaching these things about food systems in our class, but here we were living it.” Should all degrees be “green” degrees All of these career options are admirable to pursue. But recently, a post at InsideHigherEd.com raised an interesting hypothesis: Higher education is hustling to prepare students for green jobs. We’re congratulating ourselves for teaching green job skills. For studying recycling. For protecting endangered species. For teaching conservation. All this is laudable, critically important, and helpful to individuals, companies and the economy. But none of it is enough. We’re teaching skills, but failing to lead the world into a new way of thinking that must govern the behavior of all of the residents of the earth if we are to leave an economically and environmentally viable planet to our children. The bottom line: acquiring a degree in green education requires more than just expertise in the specific field of study. It requires a commitment to use that knowledge to create a healthy environment and strong community, assuring that the planet is sustained and strong for future generations. Green Scholarships The Mother Nature Network has compiled a list of 10 sites that include some of the most prestigious and best-paying environmental scholarships available. North American Alliance for Green Education The North American Alliance for Green Education is a non-profit consortium founded by students. NAAGE is comprised of educational institutions and organizations with a commitment to environmental studies programs, located in diverse bioregions. Sustainable Energy Majors Sustainability is the way of the future, and these schools are leading the pack by offering this earth-friendly major to undergraduates. Every program is a little different, but you’ll find courses in subjects like renewable energy, sustainable business practices, biofuels, and social and environmental sciences throughout. If you have studied or are studying any of these majors related to green degrees, please leave a comment here and tell us about your experiences.