A Sustainable Education Students Line Up as Illinois Colleges Add More 'Green' Programs

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Byline: Amy Boerema aboerema@dailyherald.com

For 20-year-old Louis Wren, job security is about predicting future trends.

And the College of DuPage student, who works at a Wheaton auto repair shop and would like to someday own his own store, believes he'll soon be seeing a lot of hybrid vehicles. So he was excited to enroll in a new alternative fuels course at the Glen Ellyn school.

"I figured I'd get a jump on it," Wren says. "It's interesting. Hybrids are definitely different than regular cars."

As interest in green careers continues to grow, colleges and universities in Illinois and across the country increasingly are adding green courses and programs to their offerings -- and they're filling up fast. A recent surge in such offerings has been seen at community colleges aimed at developing the green economy work force, and Illinois in particular has been at the forefront in its response, experts say.

"There has been an incredible ramping up in the last five years of colleges offering programs with 'sustainability' in their name," says Paul Rowland, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The group works to help colleges and universities incorporate sustainable practices in everything from campus operations to course offerings.

In 2009, more than 100 green programs offering certificates, minors and majors were added to schools across the country, most focused on energy and sustainability, Rowland says. That's as much growth as in the previous three years combined. "This is the decade of sustainability in higher education," he


The number of jobs in America's emerging clean energy economy grew 9.1 percent between 1998 and 2007, nearly 2.5 times faster than overall job growth, a 2009 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows.

Jobs are being created for people of all skills and educational levels, the report says, including positions like engineers, plumbers, marketing consultants, teachers and administrative assistants.

And interest is only expected to rise, with President Obama's pledge to create millions of green-related jobs in the energy, transportation and manufacturing fields in coming years.

Chicago, along with places like San Francisco and Los Angeles, is a hot spot for green job activity, says green-industry research firm Clean Edge.

Both students and school officials are responding to these trends. Student interest in the green movement has spiked, experts say.

"It's a shift in mentality," says Melissa Lenczewski, interim director of environmental studies at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. "Students don't just want jobs that make money. They want to do something that makes a difference."

"Students today are exposed to more global issues, and they're beginning to understand the impact they can have," says John Paul Stimac, department chairman of geology and geography at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.

Schools increasingly are offering courses that extend beyond traditional environmental science into areas like law, philosophy, history, business and economics.

The ones seeing the greatest increase in demand are those that combine disciplines and emphasize hands-on learning, Stimac says. "Students realize that detailed knowledge of just one subject may no longer get them a job after college."

Green curriculum

Across Illinois, universities and colleges are evaluating how best to prepare students. …