Good for Students - Good for the Economy
Last week, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) launched SEED at a Denver meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. At the time of its public unveiling, over 300 community college presidents from across the U.S. had signed on to the SEED initiative.
The concept of SEED (Sustainability Education and Economy Development) is simple: Community colleges are the front line for job training in the U.S., and a large portion of new jobs are coming from the 'green' sector - think sustainability, green building and clean, efficient and renewable energy. Therefore, community colleges should be on the front line of training for green jobs.
So the AACC has partnered with ecoAmerica to offer the SEED center. The website positions itself as a leadership initiative, free resource center and online sharing community for 2-year institutions seeking to scale up their training programs in clean tech and other green economy industries. Resources range from curriculum ideas to employment statistics to support for program and faculty development.
John Sygielski, chair of the AACC Board of Directors, points out that community colleges are uniquely well-positioned to provide this kind of training. They have close ties to local economies and can partner with businesses and the government to provide much needed vocational training. In turn, their graduates will be qualified for much-needed jobs.
'Community colleges are the backbone of American workforce training,' said Mr. Sygielski, 'and now is the time for us to step up and help our students and communities restore American prosperity.'
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A History of Green Ed
In fact, green job training has already begun at community colleges throughout the U.S. Case studies by the SEED Center uncovered a number of successful programs, including wind power training in Oregon and Massachusetts and renewable energy studies in Michigan.
The Columbia Gorge Community College in Oregon started a short-term training project for wind power technicians in response to local industry demand. The project was so successful - graduates had a 92% placement rate and salaries averaged $20-$24 per hour - that they turned it into a regular program that allows students to work toward a 2-year degree. This program has become a national model for technical training in wind power.
Meanwhile, Cape Cod Community College in Massachusetts has been training technicians for area wind farms for 10 years. Many of the school's students have gone on to earn transfer degrees in solar technology, wastewater and coastal management.
In Michigan, Oakland Community College has more than 350 students in its Renewable Energies programs and related courses. The school offers students hands-on experience in the community, working with local governments and businesses to perform energy audits, refurbish buildings with renewable materials and reduce pollution and waste.
Sustainable by Degrees
Green studies aren't just for community colleges either - 4-year college and universities are also getting into eco-education. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) found that over 100 majors, minors or certificates with an emphasis in sustainability were created at American colleges in 2009. By comparison, only four new programs in the field were created in 2005.
The AASHE also credits job growth in the green industry with the surge in interest at the college level. More and more students are turning to green subjects for an education that is both responsible and career-oriented.
Read more about green majors at U.S. colleges and universities.