Even as many colleges cut course offerings in the wake of budget crises, "green" college majors are booming. According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, more than 100 majors, minors, and certificates in programs related to energy and sustainability were created in 2009.
The growth has been partly attributed to employer demand, as more companies and individuals show an interest in pursuing greater environmental-friendliness and sustainability in their work. The Obama administration has been promoting green jobs and predicts a growth of 52% in energy and environmental-related occupations through 2016, compared to a projected 14% growth rate for other occupations. With added incentives at the state and federal level for going green, and the prospect of major environmental policy changes on the horizon, there's a growing demand for workers trained in a variety of fields that can contribute to these efforts.
Students, especially those whose plans have been changed by the current job market, are also increasingly interested in training for green careers, partially because it appears to be a growth industry. Beyond economic interest, a personal interest in sustainability is also driving demand. According to a survey by the Higher Education Research Institute, protecting the environment was one of the issues with broadest support among college freshmen in 2008. In 2007, the College Sustainability Report Card was launched to help students choose eco-friendly colleges. Green scholarships also are increasingly popular college-funding options. Students at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania can even earn up to $40,000 by taking time off before school to help the environment.
With all the growth in green education options, there is some skepticism. Critics have long accused corporations of "greenwashing," declaring things environmentally-friendly to tap into the green movement, without actually making a significant contribution to sustainability. A post on the Wallet Pop blog wonders whether colleges might be doing the same with their new green programs and encourages students to investigate whether the new green majors are truly new, and whether they're really able to prepare students for good, green jobs. It's good advice for students truly interested in both sustainability and employability-a thorough college search can ensure that you get a good education at a school that fits your needs and helps you meet your college goals.