Recycling, energy conservation programs, and water efficiency projects are all commonplace at many colleges and universities across the country. But a new report by the National Wildlife Federation shows schools may not be making the grade when it comes to teaching students about the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl has the second report of a two-part series:
Recycling, energy conservation programs, and water efficiency projects are all commonplace at many colleges and universities across the country. But a new report by the National Wildlife Federation shows schools may not be making the grade when it comes to teaching students about the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports.
Lisa Carmichael is a sophomore at Albion College in South Central Michigan. Her school recently made a course in the environment a requirement for graduation. Carmichael says she loves the idea, but says many students see it as just another required course. But Carmichael is optimistic about what the new course will do for even skeptical students.
“Even if they go in thinking, ‘Well, I just have to take this’, If you make it how this really effects their life, or make it about where does their wastewater really go or how is recycling is part of their life, then make it a practical project that they can go out and work on and see how they effect other people and how they effect the planet as a whole.”
Albion College is in the minority, according to a new report by the National Wildlife Federation on the environmental programs on college campuses. The Federation gives mostly A’s and B’s to schools for their on campus environmental efforts such as recycling and Water Conservation. But the schools receive only a C plus for Environmental Efforts in the classroom. The report shows that only eight percent of colleges have a graduation requirement for environmental class work. It also shows less than ten percent of engineering and education majors receive any training in environmental matters. Some teachers and administrators around the country are trying to change that. Debra Rowe teaches business and psychology courses at Oakland Community College in Michigan. She says each one of her courses includes some links to environmental issues. Rowe says every college graduate needs to have some background in the environment, regardless of what field students are planning to go in to.
“Once you understand the need and the opportunity to create a more humane and environmentally sound future, and we get more of our graduates that understand that, that’s going to benefit the business as well as benefit them in their roles as a community member where they can contribute to the overall health of society.”
Rowe works with faculty members at other Universities that want to increase the amount of environmental coursework required by their schools. But it is often a difficult process.
Abigail Jahiel teaches in the political science department at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. She would like to see environmental coursework as part of the general education requirements for all students. But she fears it would be a tough sell at her school.
“I think the concern would be that students already have a very heavy load of requirements, it would be adding something else, and there’s often competition between various academic interests on campus.”
But some schools are working on ways to improve environmental education without adding to the coursework. Tom Lowe is a Dean and assistant Provost at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. He says already existing courses in subjects like science and the humanities could easily add an environmental component. But he says it takes a campus wide commitment to the idea to make it happen in a practical way. Lowe says Ball State has had success with a program to teach professors how to include the environment in a diverse collection of courses.
“So the idea is that the student hears these ideas in many different courses, and in many different settings. Art, music, theatre, dance, now all talk about the environment in addition than just courses that traditionally deal with environmental issues.”
This won’t come easily though. Lowe says it will be a difficult process for many schools to take this approach toward the environment. He says it can be easy to convince a school to take on programs that save money like installing high efficiency lighting or purchasing low emission vehicles. He says it can be much more difficult to get professors to change their ways and add a new element to their courses. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.