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Choosing a Green Degree Program: What to Look For

Sep 7, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

A green degree may not make you rich. But it’s very likely to lead to a stable, rewarding career working toward lessening our environmental impact—and that’s worth working for.  Environmental regulations affect a diverse range of industries, and if you can keep your company compliant, you’re sure to be in demand. In addition, the renewable energy sector needs qualified workers—approximately 20% of today’s renewable energy workforce is projected to retire within the next ten years. According to some estimates, that would leave approximately 100,000 jobs open all over the country—add expected growth to that, and the estimate for available jobs increases to as much as 800,000.

As demands on our resources increase and environmental issues come more and more into mainstream public life, workers with an environmental education are sure to be valuable in a wide range of careers—even outside the traditional renewable energy or environmental sectors. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a green degree program.

The Right Focus

Sure, you can go with the typical environmental science or ecology degree, but that may not be the best environmental degree for you.  There are dozens of green degrees to fit any industry, and if you know where your career interests lie, you may want to consider a more focused degree.  Check out green degrees in health care or Liberal Arts, an MBA in Sustainability, or a Bachelor’s in Environmental Management.

A Background in Science

Regardless of the industry your green degree focuses on, you can’t learn much about human impact on the environment without a solid understanding of science. Any green degree program should include hard science courses such as biology, biochemistry, ecology, botany, and atmospheric sciences in addition to those classes that focus on your specialty.

Recycle Board

Environmental regulations affect a diverse range of industries, and if you can keep your company compliant through your Environmental education, then you’re sure to be in demand.

An Accredited School

When looking into both online and traditional schools, it’s crucial to make sure your school is accredited. 

Regardless of whether your school is online or traditional, it should ideally hold accreditation from one of the six U.S. regional accreditors:

•    New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE)

Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (MSA)

•    Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)

•    North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Higher Learning Commission (NCA-HLC)

•    Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (WASC - ACSCU)

•    Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)

 There are also several national accrediting agencies that focus on environmental and science degrees.  National accreditors will accredit any program regardless of its location in the US, and while they are often considered not as rigorous as regional accreditation when it comes to accrediting entire schools, they can add additional prestige when used to accredit individual departments within a regionally recognized school.

National accreditors relevant to green degrees include the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council, the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), the Society of American Foresters (SAF) and the American Society for Microbiology.

Check out Accreditation 101 to get a broad understanding of what accreditation is, how it works, and which accreditations to watch for.

A Hands-On Component

You can complete an online degree entirely in the comfort of your home—but that doesn’t mean you should, necessarily.  Science classes often have a lab component, and a program that requires experiments or hands-on projects as part of your degree is probably going to be more rigorous than one without any hands-on component at all.

A School That’s Committed

Some schools are more committed to environmental issues than others—and chances are the more committed the school as a whole, the better the degree program will be. Does the school have a recycling program? Does it use energy-efficient appliances? Does it practice green purchasing, or buying equipment and supplies that are as environmentally friendly as possible? Is the school’s vehicle fleet hybrid or fuel-efficient? Does the dining hall compost waste?  There are many signs that a school is committed to environmental issues—and if your school is, chances are you’ll get a good green education there.

Not all green degree programs are the same. Look for a college that’s committed to ecologically sound principles as a whole; a rigorous program with a hands-on component and a solid background in science; the right focus and the right accreditation. With these elements, you’re likely to earn a green degree that will translate into a rewarding career.



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