By Amy Resnic
Companies are increasingly "going green" and looking for workers with environmental knowledge and skills. Always looking to meet their state's employment needs, community colleges are creating new certificate and two-year degree programs for students in a vast array of environmental areas. Many of the 6.5 million students at the approximately 1,200 community colleges in the United States are starting the path to a green career at these schools which offer lower costs, among other benefits, than traditional four-year schools.
Community colleges generally offer two options for students: an associate's degree, which is usually completed in two years, and certificate programs that are non-degree offerings and concentrate in a particular professional area. Generally broader in scope, many students choosing the environmental associate's degree path have the option to continue their education at a four-year school. However, for students choosing to directly enter the workforce, there are numerous certificate options.
Many community colleges have also become "green" campuses by becoming energy-efficient and reducing the pollution and waste being emitted at the college, and making sustainability a prominent part of the campus culture. At De Anza Community College in Cupertino, California, students can enhance their knowledge of environmental studies at the Kirsch Center, the lead demonstration building for energy and sustainability in the California Community College system and rated as the first community college LEED platinum building in the nation. The Kirsch Center was built on the principles that it itself can teach about energy, resources, and stewardship, and includes solar panels, naturally lit areas, radiant heating, and many more efficient elements.
U.S. Dept. of Education & the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education
In June of 2009, the U.S. Department of Education and its National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) announced the selection of five states to receive technical assistance in developing green-focused programs of study. The goal of the program is to help design a clear path from high school to a green career such as biotech and alternative energy. The post-secondary focus will be on two-year colleges, with the states expected to have their new programs in place for the 2010-2011 academic year. The five states chosen, with their proposed programs of study are:
- Georgia - energy, construction and transportation
- Illinois - energy, utilities and waste management
- New Jersey - various industries
- Ohio - energy, biotech and agriculture
- Oregon - wind, solar and construction
Environmental Associate's Degrees
Many community colleges offer an associate's degree in environmental studies. This degree studies the basic principles of ecology and environmental science. Related subjects such as policy, politics, law, economics, social aspects, planning, pollution control, and natural resources may also be included as part of the curriculum.
Within the associate's degree in environmental studies, most schools offer students the opportunity to focus their learning in a particular area. Some of these areas include biodiversity, environmental policy and law, forestry and wildlife management, urban planning, landscape management and architecture, and environmental technology or conservation.
For example, at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, Connecticut, students can obtain an environmental science degree with a foundation in the basic sciences and the opportunity to focus on a specific area such as wastewater treatment processes or environmental systems. Upon completion of the degree, students may directly enter the workforce or continue their education within the Connecticut State University System.
Another degree offered at some schools is the associate's in environmental engineering. This degree prepares students to either transfer to a four-year school to obtain a bachelor's degree, or for entry-level engineering jobs. Entry-level jobs include hazardous waste technician, field sampling technician, environmental compliance specialist, air sampling technician, to name a few.
Environmental Certificate Programs
Community colleges are also at the forefront of creating innovative new certificate programs for workers to directly enter the green workforce. These programs generally concentrate on green technologies and construction practices. Examples of certificate programs a student may find at their local community college include:
- Environmental HVAC systems
- Green construction/building
- Renewable energy
- Solar panel installers
- Wastewater management
- Wind turbine technician
Red Rocks Community College in Colorado is a good example of what a community college may offer for certificate programs. Their dedication to preparing workers for green jobs in the new-energy technology and construction fields is evident through their renewable energy program. Students have the option of concentrating in one of four areas, with information on job titles, salaries, and job requirements available on their Web site.
Another example is the 26-week Wind Turbine Technician Academy at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan. This program provides graduates with credentials that are highly sought after by the wind power industry for the construction, operation and maintenance of utility size wind turbines. Kalamazoo Community College expects this field to be in demand, with between 1,000 and 2,000 new technicians needed nationwide to support the current pattern of industry growth.
For more information see CTI's articles "Community Colleges: An Important Part of Higher Education", "Environmental "Green" Degree Programs", and "Schools Expanding Green Career Degree Options".