Environmental Programs Curriculum Study
CURRICULUM COMMITTEE ACTIVITIES
The goal of the CEDD Curriculum Committee is to improve the quality of academic environmental programs in their broadest contest and enhance the relevance of these programs to society. The curricula of higher education environmental programs are at the center of this effort and form a priority effort. Members of the Committee were initially charged with identifying core competencies that all environmental program graduates should be expected to possess. In preliminary discussions among CEDD members in a workshop sponsored by the Committee at the 2003 Winter meeting, it became clear that consensus on the identity and relative emphasis of core competencies would not be easily obtained. The Committee broadened its inquiry to include a study exploring institutional parameters, program characteristics, and curricular perspectives. A four-phase study was designed to facilitate and inform deliberations aimed at reaching a consensus on core competencies for higher education environmental programs.
CURRICULUM STUDY: FOUR PHASES
Phase I: Preliminary Study – CEDD Institution Perspectives on Curriculum Design
Phase I has been completed. A summary of findings are presented below.
Phase II: Survey of U.S. Higher Education Environmental Programs
The findings obtained from Phase have been used to develop an online survey targeted to all U.S. interdisciplinary environmental programs. The survey is complete and analysis ongoing. The final report is anticipated September 2008. Preliminary results are discussed below.
Phase III: In-Depth Study of Mature Programs
The results of Phase II will be used to identify candidates for an in-depth study of mature programs. Mature programs will be studied to understand the forces that shaped the programs and to identify trends in program development. These trends will demonstrate whether program curricula are converging on a common set of core competencies, diverging toward distinct curricular design clusters, or each pursuing independent tracks.
Phase IV: National Conference
At the conclusion of the first three phases, CEDD will have a thorough understanding of environmental program curricula at colleges and universities in the U.S. and the forces that shape their evolution. We will also understand curricular elements that are held in common, those that are shared by clusters of programs, and those that vary considerably across programs. Armed with this understanding, CEDD will host a national conference at which facilitated deliberations will be conducted to identify those curricular elements that could form the basis of consensus on curriculum design. Where consensus cannot be obtained, recommendations for further study and deliberation will be solicited.
Phase I: Perspectives on Environmental Program Curricula and Core Competencies
This phase of the study is complete. The report is available but limited to CEDD members only while publications are pending.
Summary of Findings
The results of the on-line survey administered to CEDD members revealed that most program administrators agree that core competencies should be defined but, as demonstrated in the workshop that followed, reaching agreement becomes increasingly difficult as the core competency prescriptions become more specific. All agree that environmental curricula should be interdisciplinary and focused on understanding and solving problems at the human-nature interface. The survey results also indicate widespread, but not universal, agreement that natural sciences, social sciences, applied sciences, and the humanities all add value to the curriculum. However, specifying particular courses or credit hours generates controversy.
A Q methodological study revealed three distinct, but not opposing, perspectives held by CEDD members regarding curricular design. The “Environmental Scientist” perspective prefers a curriculum anchored in a single discipline; such programs are most frequently located within departments and are most popular at higher educational institutions classified as master’s degree granting. The “Environmental Citizen” perspective seeks to increase environmental awareness among all students through a mix of natural science, social science, and the humanities. This perspective is most popular among administrators of CEDD member programs located at baccalaureate liberal arts institutions. Most of the program administrators who hold the “Environmental Problem-Solver” perspective are located at doctoral degree granting institutions. This perspective endorses interdisciplinary breadth aimed at addressing systemic environmental problems. All perspectives agree that environmental programs should focus on the interface between human and natural systems through multiple disciplinary lenses and approaches.
The workshop demonstrated that a consensus on core competencies is much easier to obtain for skill sets than disciplinary knowledge content. Intellectual and communication skills were rated highest in importance among all participants whereas research skills rated slightly less important and interpersonal and project management skills were rated least important among the consensus skills. Only computational skills failed to gain consensus. Insofar as knowledge content is concerned, natural sciences, statistics, policy, and ethics enjoyed broad support and social sciences gained moderate support. Dissensus persisted on mathematics, physics, engineering, economics, toxicology, and history.
Though we have completed only the first phase of this research project, we believe that sustainability could serve as a unifying framework for thinking about core competencies. Sustainability has gained both scholarly and public legitimacy, requires interdisciplinary approaches, and is aimed at the interface of human and natural systems. The subsequent phases of this project will determine whether our supposition is correct.
Phase II: Survey of Environmental Program Leaders
The target survey population consists of baccalaureate and graduate degree-granting programs in the U.S. that focus on the interface of human and natural systems from an interdisciplinary perspective. This includes most environmental science, environmental studies, and sustainability programs as well as some natural resources management, environmental policy, and environmental management programs, but excludes programs that offer only associate degrees or minors/certificates and those that offer professional and related degrees in less interdisciplinary allied fields such as environmental engineering, environmental health, environmental chemistry/toxicology, environmental geology, meteorology, conservation biology, forest/rangeland management, natural resource geography, and environmental statistics. A total of 856 programs (administering 700 undergraduate and 275 graduate degree programs) at 657 institutions were identified for inclusion in the survey. A total of 16 program and 5 institutions were later removed from the sample because the program was discontinued or did not meet the selection criteria, reducing the sample to 840 programs at 652 institutions
The online questionnaire is divided into three sections. The program administrator section inquires into the nature of the administrator’s appointment, formal training, and professional society memberships. The program information section addresses program characteristics, resources, and factors that influence program design and change. The degree section includes questions about degrees offered (including specializations), degree requirements, curricular emphases placed on knowledge and skills areas, and student and alumni demographics. A census survey of U. S. higher education environmental programs is currently underway with results anticipated in summer 2008.
Analysis on the programs selected for the survey indicates that degrees named Environmental Science or Environmental Studies comprise three-quarters of the undergraduate and half of the graduate degrees awarded by these programs. However, Environmental Studies degrees are awarded primarily at the baccalaureate level; less than 10% of graduate degrees are in Environmental Studies. The remaining 32% of undergraduate degree program names/focus areas vary widely, with environmental policy and planning, environmental management and analysis (including risk assessment), and natural resources management most common. Other areas include sustainability, systems science, humanities, environmental geography, marine science and studies, water resources science and studies, and earth sciences.
Similarly, the interdisciplinary graduate degree programs not named Environmental Science or Studies focus on a particular area of environmental study and research, with environmental policy and planning and natural resources management programs most popular. Environmental management and analysis programs are also common in master’s programs, but not in doctoral programs. Other master’s program areas include sustainability, systems science, public administration, social sciences, environmental geography, marine science and studies, water resources science and studies, climate science and studies, earth sciences, and two engineering programs that combine environmental science and engineering and natural resources management and engineering. Doctoral programs include sustainability, systems science, public administration, social sciences, environmental geography, marine science and studies, water resources science and studies, climate science and studies, earth sciences and an engineering program that combines natural resources management and engineering.
A total of 260 program leaders at 238 institutions participated in the survey for a response rate of 31%. They provided information on 343 degree programs (69% named Environmental Sciences or Environmental Studies). Baccalaureate degrees comprise 73.2%, master’s degrees 19.5% and doctoral degrees 7.3%.
The sample was sufficient to meet statistical validity assumptions for measuring program attributes and for measuring correlations between attributes (power = .90 at α = .05for a .20 effect). The sample was found to be representative in regards to institute Carnegie class, census region/division and program degree types (name/level).
Key findings from the survey were presented during the CEDD Summer Meeting plenary session including: (1) information on program structure and curricular content, (2) influences and trends in program evolution, and (3) the results of a cluster analysis evaluation of program types based on importance ratings of 16 knowledge areas and 23 skill sets. The final report is anticipated to be completed by September 2008.
Will Focht, Chair
Director, Institute for Sustainable Environments
Director, Environmental Science Graduate Program
Oklahoma State University
003 Life Sciences East
Stillwater, OK 74078
p. 405.744.9994 / f. 405.744.7673 /firstname.lastname@example.org
Shirley Vincent, Lead Researcher
Environmental Science Graduate Program
Oklahoma State University
003 Life Sciences East
Stillwater, OK 74078
p. 918.587.3499 / c. 918.629.5143 / email@example.com