ERIC Identifier: ED319629
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Disinger, John F. - And Others
Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Recent Developments in College Level Environmental Studies
Courses and Programs. ERIC/SMEAC Environmental Education Digest No. 2, 1988.
Environmental studies is a term that began to be used in the 1960's to describe some courses and programs, and if not a new discipline, a set of disciplines. Criteria usually associated with the term include the following: (1) the study of humans as they affect and are affected by their environment; (2) concern for the TOTAL ENVIRONMENT including social, cultural, economic, aesthetic, physical and biological aspects; (3) INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACHES; (4) clarification of OPEN-ENDED OPTIONS for environmental concerns, rather than short-term solutions; and (5) integrated environmental management that expresses ethical dimensions.
Environmental studies can encompass, but are not synonymous with the
environmental sciences. Environmental studies seek to bring perspective to both
the sciences and the arts.
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION?
What is the current state-of-the-art of environmental studies
in colleges and universities today? More or less? Better or worse? How have the
programs which started a few years ago managed in terms of growth and survival?
Are there discernible patterns of evolution, with respect to environmental
studies programs? This digest identifies characteristics of successful programs
in environmental studies and trends in environmental studies programs and
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF PROGRAMS ESTABLISHED IN THE
1970'S THAT EXIST TODAY?
In 1978 Schoenfeld and Disinger (1978) investigated
characteristics of a representative set of environmental studies programs in
higher education institutions. Harde (1982) investigated several key elements of
environmental studies in higher education. Disinger and Schoenfeld (1987)
conducted a follow-up study of their 1978 sample to determine changes that
occurred in their sample. In addition, presentations of various programs
published in annual proceedings of the North American Association for
Environmental Education provide evidence of program survivability, program
characteristics, and program evolution.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS?
Data from the Disinger and
Schoenfeld (1987) study and others indicate that at least a large majority
(about 70%) of the environmental studies programs established in the 1970's have
been maintained,though in several cases with modification.
Reasons for not continuing programs tended to be related to (1) fiscal
conditions or changes, (2) changes in faculty interests and values (change of
faculty or retirement of faculty associated with the program), (3) the impact of
traditional department values (atomistic) or holistic programs, (4) lack of a
tough, focused substance area in programs, and (5) failure to modify the program
to include current environmental concerns and needs such as global problems,
national and international laws, and sustainable development.
Programs that have survived and have grown tend to share several of the
following characteristics: (1) the program is dynamic and responds to changes
within the fields the program represents as well as changes that occur as
society relates to the environment; (2) the program has both theoretical and
applied emphases; (3) the program provides both breadth related to the
environment and depth in a field of interest; (4) the program is clearly
interdisciplinary in its emphasis; (5) the primary funding source for the
program is the institution; (6) the institutional administration values and
supports environmental studies; (7) the program has strong staff leadership; (8)
the program has been recognized for its academic quality and/or its contribution
to environmental activities; (9) the philosophy of the program shows a definite
commitment to environmental education values and actions; and (10) the program
staff works closely with other academic units. The academic home (college or
department) of the program was not a distinguishing characteristic.
Descriptions of many programs have been published in the literature. Nearly
an entire issue of "The Environmental Professional" (Volume 9, N3, 1987) was
devoted to descriptions of environmental studies programs. Over 20 programs, all
from different institutions, are described. In addition, conference proceedings
from the annual meeting of the North American Association for Environmental
Education (NAEE) have also included presentations on environmental studies
WHAT ARE RECENT TRENDS RELATED TO POSTSECONDARY COURSES AND PROGRAMS IN ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES?
Analyses of recent developments in
courses and programs indicate the following:
1. There has been an increase in the number of courses that include
environmental concerns. Courses that have infused topics related to the
environment include both the sciences and the social sciences and represent the
primary academic exposure that college and university students have to
environmental concepts, issues, and values. Infusion appears to occur most
frequently in geology, biology, geography, economics, political science,
literature, and sociology.
2. There has been a small increase in the number of general education courses
with major emphases on the environment and environmental issues. These have
developed most frequently in liberal arts institutions, smaller public colleges
and universities, and institutions with established programs in environmental
studies. With the increased interest in environmental issues and problems and
global concerns, several institutions have developed global study programs and
courses. Analyses of presentations at meetings and the published literature
indicate the number of courses related to global issues and problems will
continue to increase.
3. The number of institutions that have experiences that extend beyond the
campus to provide internships and research experiences has increased. Students
in some environmental studies programs are required (and encouraged in others)
to have relevant intern or research experiences. Internships include both
traditional experiences such as parks, state government and federal government
positions, but also include research center activities and internships with
local and regional government units and corporations.
4. There has been a continuing increase in the number of technically oriented
programs both in four-year institutions and community colleges. Environmental
compliance, management, and inspection have become increasing complex and
frequently require personnel with technical backgrounds. To respond to both the
market for these people in the public and private sector and also to the student
interest for programs, there has been a rapid growth of such programs. The
greatest number of courses and programs have been developed in the engineering
and health sciences.
5. Course offerings for adult education and post-degree training have also
increased. A variety of courses developed for adult education relate to current
environmental issues and problems. Some general courses are offered, but many
focus on local and regional environmental concerns. As new concerns emerge
related to the environment and as technical requirements for some
environmentally-related jobs increase, institutions are providing courses to
meet these needs when they are located where a sufficient number of students
reside. Some are exploring the use of distance education to provide these
6. Courses related to Science/Technology/Society (STS) have been developed at
several institutions. Many of these contain environmental study components, but
most are not a formal part of an environmental studies program.
7. During the 1960's and 1970's several colleges were organized with an
environmental studies emphasis (Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington;
Huxley College of Environmental Studies, Western Washington University;
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay). The development of colleges with an
environmental studies emphasis, while never a trend, did not extend to many
other institutions in the 1980's.
Environmental studies have survived the past two
decades. Characteristics associated with courses and programs that have survived
and continue to develop are identified and provide useful guidelines for those
developing new courses or programs or working to maintain a current program.
Recent trends related to environmental courses and programs provide an
indication of current program directions.
During the past two years there has been a resurgence of public interest in
the environment and environmental problems. There also has been a growing
awareness by governmental and corporate groups that the environment should
receive more attention for short-term and long-term consequences.
These conditions provide opportunities and challenges for faculty and staff
with interests in environmental studies. Now is a good time to review courses
and programs to determine the extent to which they are meeting current student
and environmental needs and to determine how they can be improved.
Disinger, John F., and A. Clay
Schoenfeld, Editors. Special Issue: Focus on Environmental Studies. The
Environmental Professional, 9(3), 185-269, 1987.
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Unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, The Union for Experimenting Colleges and
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Iozzi, Louis A., Ed; and Clint L. Shepard, Ed. Building Multicultural Webs
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