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Summary The urgency to address environmental, economic, and societal challenges continues to increase worldwide. Ensuring that humans have sufficient food, clean water, energy, housing, education, and health must not be at the expense of clean air, rich biodiversity, natural resources, and thriving ecosystems. Meet- ing human needs of today should not encumber future generations from meeting those same needs; thus, people need to operate socially, economically, and politi- cally in sustainable ways. Central to achieving sustainability is education at all levels, from as early as preschool and throughout all levels of the workforce.1 Noticeably, there is documented growing interest in sustainability education in colleges and universities across the United States. The number of undergraduate and graduate degree programs, research institutes, and centers focused on sustain- ability has markedly increased in the past decade. Connected to this growth in higher education sustainability programs is a rich debate related to defining key competencies for these programs. Several organizations have examined this issue, including the U.S. Council of Envi- ronmental Deans and Directors of the National Council for Science and the Environment and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Orga- nization, or UNESCO, and they have noted that the lack of core competencies for sustainability remains a key limitation to fully characterizing the effectiveness of sustainability education (Halinen, 2017). Evidence-based core competencies 1â Sustainability is commonly defined in the United States as follows: âto create and maintain con- ditions, under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generationsâ (National Environmental Protection Act of 1969, as amended through December 31, 2000 [NEPA 2000], Executive Order 13514 [White House, 2009]. 1
2 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA for interdisciplinary sustainability programs can provide suitable guidance for curricular and program development, research, policy, communication, and peda- gogical approaches at academic institutions. They can also serve as a guide for students to select academic programs and potential career options, a reference for employers to understand qualifications of graduates, and the foundation for a potential specialized accreditation for interdisciplinary sustainability programs. The growing demand for well-qualified sustainability professionals within the public, private, and nonprofit sectors also points to the value of developing core competencies. A variety of pedagogical approaches for achieving core competencies can further strengthen sustainability programs in higher education. Project-based learning, experiential learning, and longer-term projects that immerse students in practitioner organizations will allow students to address complex sustainability challenges in real-world, authentic, and often messy problem settings. Another approach is to present students with wicked problems, in simulated real-world settings, elaborated either as carefully developed qualitative cases or more quan- titatively structured applied problems that represent sustainability challenges. Learning in such real-world and simulated contexts can help develop greater fa- miliarity among learners with systems where interactions are complex, uncertain, and difficult to model and where solutions may create unforeseen, inequitable, and negative consequences. The point is not to discourage solutions-based think- ing but to educate students on the complexities of sustainability issues so that solutions are not oversimplified. Sustainability is emerging as a field that is revolutionizing how humans work and live. Industries, institutions, and organizations across all domains and sectors now intersect with sustainability challenges and opportunities, affecting the knowledge and skills required for the future workforce. Thus, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine were asked to provide expert insights for strengthening the emerging discipline of sustainability in higher education in the United States. Since the field of sustainability education is relatively new, the committee gathered information at three workshops, com- plemented by further research into available literature. The committee engaged business leaders, program directors, faculty, and students at three workshops held across the United States, including Austin, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Santa Cruz, California.2 Each workshop was designed to examine different ap- proaches and drivers for a coherent curriculum in the growing number of higher education sustainability programs, and to identify how sustainability education could address enduring and emerging issues identified in frameworks as the 2â See Appendix D for the final workshop agendas. A short summary of each of these workshops is available on the National Academies Press website at www.nas.edu.
SUMMARY 3 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and by employers and practitioners (or âend usersâ) in private, public, and nonprofit sectors. LANDSCAPE FOR SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION The committee benefited substantially from research, analysis, and case studies to develop the agendas for its public workshops, consider themes and rec- ommendations, and fulfill its statement of task (see Box 1-1). The report first de- scribes the local, national, and global landscape related to sustainability education (see Chapter 2) by highlighting key frameworks through which to understand, research, and teach the field of sustainability, including the SDGs, but also other relevant frameworks from the private sector. The committee examines the history and current status of sustainability education programs in the United States and globally, including those that have publicly embraced the SDGs as a framework for organizing core sustainability issues. The report finally also discusses employ- ment prospects for sustainability graduates in terms of the opportunities and the skills that employers seek, in addition to efforts to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in sustainability-related education and employment. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Based on the information gathered during the course of the study, the com- mittee offers a set of recommendations, grouped by report chapter and organized by three principal themes: (1) strengthening sustainability educational programs at undergraduate and graduate levels, (2) building the academic environment for sustainability in higher education institutions, and (3) developing a sustainability workforce to understand and address current and future sustainability challenges. These three themes are the focus of Chapters 3, 4, and 5, and the recommendations below are discussed in greater detail in each of the respective chapters. The report also includes a recommendation for additional research on sustainability education in areas where gaps in evaluation, definitions, and trends remain. The committeeâs recommendations and the choices of educational programs given as models are based primarily on input from practitioners attending the three workshops or mem- bers of the committee, as described in the committeeâs statement of task. However, the committee examined relevant literature and research where available. Strengthening Sustainability Programs With interest high among current and incoming students and the ever- increasing need to improve human well-being while remaining within planetary boundaries, many higher education institutions are creating or expanding sustain- ability education programs. The committee highlights necessary competencies,
4 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA content areas, and capacity building that students should gain through classroom and experiential learning across different contexts. Competencies and Capacities for Sustainability Education The growth in sustainability programs at colleges and universities and the demand for graduates of these programs has led to concerted efforts to define the key competencies that sustainability graduates should acquire. Wiek et al. (2011) define competencies as âa functionally linked complex of knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable successful task performance and problem solving,â and use competencies and capacities interchangeably. Defining core competencies can help guide efforts of sustainability educators to identify learning outcomes and assessments, prepare students for careers in sustainability by enabling them to be change agents (see Chapter 5), and match sustainability curricula with existing and emerging needs of employers of university graduates. Recommendation 3.1: Academic institutions of higher education should embrace sustainability education as a vital field that requires specifically tailored educational experiences and the development of core sustainability-focused competencies and capacities deliv- ered through courses, majors, minors, certifications, research, and graduate degrees in sustainability. Content Areas in Sustainability Education Beyond learning competencies, the committee recommends the incorpora- tion of key sustainability content knowledge that students need at the undergradu- ate and graduate levels. The range of topics should address current and future sustainability challenges using problem-based and solutions-oriented learning. While some students will prefer to gain knowledge about a broad number of topics in sustainability, others will prefer to specialize in more targeted areas. Necessary content and depth and breadth of understanding will depend in part on the nature of the sustainability programs. Degrees in sustainability will typi- cally focus on the integration of broad sets of content areas (breadth as strength), while degrees that incorporate sustainability into existing disciplines, such as sustainable engineering, will require a strong emphasis on core content (depth as strength) viewed through a sustainability lens. At the graduate level, sustain- ability programs, which may engage students from a variety of undergradu- ate disciplines, have to provide a foundational understanding of sustainability principles, competencies, and capacities, but the expectation is for students to develop depth in specific content, methods, or approaches (including depth in specific competencies and capacities). For graduate programs where sustainabil- ity is an adjective to a defined discipline (e.g., sustainable architecture), depth in
SUMMARY 5 that discipline is expected, while sustainability can serve as a framing concept to suitably qualify the core elements of the discipline. In both cases, sustainability students and graduates will need to collaborate with others for a common baseline understanding of content areas that include the history of sustainability, ethics and social justice, data analytics, business administration, sustainability science, diversity and justice, and Indigenous knowledge and culture. The committee recognizes that the evolving and interdisciplinary nature of sustainability and its dimensions means that sustainability education programs may need to determine core content knowledge somewhat flexibly, and in accordance with context, dis- cipline, and institution-specific requirements. Recommendation 3.2: Sustainability curricula and programs in higher education should encompass key and emerging sustainability content areas to prepare students to address complex sustainabil- ity challenges in a real-world setting while incorporating problem- based and solution-oriented approaches to sustainability. Contexts and Applications of Sustainability Education Sustainability higher education needs to help students understand the intersec- tions and interdependencies in their social and organizational contexts and identify the leverage points that can enable transitions toward sustainability. Through sustainability education, students should understand how built, social, and organi- zational environments are shaped by the requirement of goods, services, and infra- structures that meet human needs and wants, and that these requirements affect and are affected by the natural environment and ecosphere. Students then need to act in ways that balance human and social development in relation to environmental goals. Incorporating capacities in sustainability education will enable translation of competencies into effective practice (Clark and Harley, 2020). Experiential learning enables consolidation of learner capacity to translate knowledge into practice. Student learning in higher education sustainability programs should include experiential learning opportunities with business, gov- ernment, nongovernmental, or other civil society organizations. It should also include other community engagement opportunities via internships, student re- search, and professional development programs to foster specialized knowledge, technical expertise, and interpersonal skills for collaboration to address sustain- ability challenges from local to global scales (Eyler, 2009). Benefits of experi- ential knowledge include a deeper understanding of subject matter, the capacity for critical thinking and application of knowledge in complex or ambiguous situations, and a recognition of the value of lifelong learning, including learning in the workplace. Sustainability higher education programs should also provide students a con- ceptual understanding of how organizations learn and change (March and Olsen,
6 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA 1975; Nelson and Winter, 1982; Chadwick and Raver, 2015; Lozano, 2014; Schulz, 2017). This should complement opportunities for practical experience (e.g., intern- ships, apprenticeships) in the organizational contexts in which many of them will seek careers. Recommendation 3.3: Sustainability curricula and programs in higher education should train students to understand the highly interdependent, varied, and complex contexts of sustainability (in- cluding organizational contexts); to develop their ability to discern and address the historical and contemporary trajectories and con- sequences of sustainability processes; and to apply their learning in experiential learning settings (community, organizational, service) so that learners can be more effective implementers of effective transitions toward sustainability. Strengthening a Supportive Academic Environment The increase in sustainability education programs constitutes evidence that many campuses are taking steps to engage students, faculty, and staff on the topic. The committee focuses on how academic institutions can build sustainability education programs, including bridging disciplinary silos; promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion; and strengthening federal support for sustainability pro- grams in higher education, and where research on the future evolution of these programs and their impacts is needed. Bridging Disciplinary Silos Sustainability is an interdisciplinary field overlapping with nearly every major and degree program in higher education. Clark and Wallace (2015) noted that while âinterdisciplinarityâ and âintegrationâ enjoy strong positive support in theory, making them a reality is more challenging. The reality is that most academic institutions are not set up to foster this interdisciplinarity. Despite the challenges, strategies to foster interdisciplinarity in sustainability education include (1) exploring team teaching with faculty from different departments, (2) developing an incentive system for collaboration in teaching and research, (3) training the educators about the value of interdisciplinarity, and (4) working across a diverse range of departments, among others. Recommendation 4.1: Academic leaders should encourage the devel- opment of, implementation of, and participation in interdisciplinary sustainability programs that bridge disciplinary silos by fostering effective strategies such as team teaching, curriculum planning, interdisciplinary advising and preparation of graduate students,
SUMMARY 7 and educator trainings across departments about competencies and content areas of sustainability. Sustainability programs can be launched and evolve under a variety of institutional arrangements, but a commitment to and value of inclusivity and interdisciplinar- ity is of fundamental importance, particularly from top leaders of higher education institutions. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion It is critically important to incorporate the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion in sustainability education programs. Infusing diversity, equity, and inclusion principles into sustainability education is crucial to achieve the SDGs and other sustainability goals, because graduates of sustainability education pro- grams engage a diversity of community, government, and industry stakeholders with a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and expertise. Environmental and sustainability-related diversity pathway programs, as well as several transuni- versity programs, are possible avenues to help diverse students enter the field. Promoting strategies to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in sustainability education is also critical to address underrepresentation in academic programs and the workforce. Recommendation 4.2: Sustainability education programs should prioritize attracting and supporting students with varied back- grounds and lived experiences, supporting them for success in a variety of sustainability careers. This also requires attracting and retaining faculty from diverse backgrounds in sustainability educa- tion programs, with additional attention to equity, inclusion, and local and Indigenous knowledge in the content of the curriculum and the institutional setting. Federal Support of Sustainability Programs in Higher Education Policy makers have recognized the role that campus sustainability programs have in achieving societal goals. In 2008, Congress passed the Higher Educa- tion Sustainability Act of 2007 as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which established a competitive grant program through the U.S. Department of Education, in consultation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for universities and places of higher education to develop and implement sustain- ability curriculums, practices on campus, and academic programs.3 Although the 3â Higher Education Sustainability Act (HESA) of 2007, S. 2444, 110th Congress (2007â2008); Higher Education Opportunity Act, H.R. 4137, 110th Congress (2007â2008), Public Law No: 110- 315; available at https://www.congress.gov/110/plaws/publ315/PLAW-110publ315.pdf, accessed on March 11, 2020.
8 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA Higher Education Opportunity Act was passed, the Higher Education Sustain- ability Act itself was only appropriated funding for one year, and no assessment or evaluation of the program is available. In November 2019, legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate to reauthorize the program through what the bill sponsors titled the Higher Education Sustainability Act of 2019.4 The committee noted that since 2008, the federal agencies that support sustainability research and initiatives have broadened beyond the Environmental Protection Agency, the only agency designated in the legislation as a collaborating entity with the Department of Education, the grant administrator. Given the range of federal programs that currently support sustainability-related activities, other agencies would also be suitable to support grant programs for sustainability education and research. Ad- ditionally, making provisions for minority-serving institutions to qualify for those federal sustainability education grants will attract and support diverse students in sustainability education. Recommendation 4.3: Federal agencies should increase their sup- port for sustainability education programs, and they should include provisions for minority-serving institutions to apply for and receive grants to establish or revise sustainability education programs. Sustainability Education Research Agendas Limited available data and analyses on the effectiveness of sustainability higher education programs and their curricular offerings on different metrics, employment trajectories and labor outcomes of graduates, and ongoing program- matic and curricular innovations suggest some important directions for future research in sustainability education. Throughout the workshops, participants highlighted the need for criteria by which to evaluate programs as well as their influence on the institution, on student career paths, on sustainability as a field, and on measures of success relative to the SDGs and other frameworks. The centering of sustainability as part of corporate strategy and value creation and growth in green jobs related to energy-efficient design and production are among the workforce trends that have increased demand for sustainability education, but definitions and data collection remain fluid (Novello and Carlock, 2019). This diversification calls into question how sustainability curricula may also change, and how the decade of action toward the SDGs may shape the landscape and partnerships that will define a global, shared, post-2030 agenda. Research is also needed on how core competencies and content areas across sustainability programs are converging, diverging, or evolving; on effectiveness of the dif- ferent student-centered, interactive pedagogies used across programs; and on 4â Higher Education Sustainability Act of 2019, S. 2928, 116th Congress (2019â2020), available at https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/s2928/BILLS-116s2928is.pdf, accessed on September 23, 2020.
SUMMARY 9 how institutional policies, structures, and curricula affect the development and flourishing of these programs. Recommendation 4.4: To strengthen and support sustainability edu- cation programs, research should be conducted on (i) the effective- ness of sustainability curricula for achieving program-level goals and contributing positively to communities of practice, along with impacts on activities within higher education institutions overall; (ii) the marketplace for sustainability jobs and pathways for students to secure those opportunities; (iii) how core competencies and content areas in sustainability programs may be converging, diverging, or otherwise evolving; and (iv) how these programs will prepare stu- dents for a post-2030 agenda for sustainable development. Developing a Sustainability Workforce For a strong sustainability workforce, it is important to support students beyond their academic needs in terms of the financial, emotional, and other pres- sures they may face outside the classroom. Collaboration opportunities among sustainability students and professionals is also crucial for them to develop into effective change agents. In this context, professional societies can play an im- portant role to support such professionalization and collaboration as they do in many disciplines. Developing Change Agents Change agents play crucial roles in âinitiating, managing, or implementing changeâ (Caldwell, 2003). To address the complexity of sustainability challenges, sustainability education programs must prepare their students also to become change agentsâwhile they are in school and in their careers (Kremers et al., 2019). Achieving the SDGs will require change agents from multiple disciplines beyond the small percentage who study sustainability in depth (i.e., undergradu- ate majors or minors and/or as graduate students). Students are entering sustain- ability programs with the desire to change the world for the better. Academic programs can harness this motivation with the necessary competencies, knowl- edge, and skills described in this report. Recommendation 5.1: Completion of a sustainability program in higher education should improve studentsâ ability to design, implement, and lead proactive change toward a sustainable world. Thus, sustainability education programs should provide training and mentoring support to enhance capacities of their graduates to translate knowledge to effec- tive action to meet emerging local, regional, national, and global needs.
10 STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS AND CURRICULA Enhancing Collaboration among Sustainability Professional Societies and the Role of Accreditation As sustainability education programs emerge and evolve, students, faculty, staff, and program directors would benefit from opportunities to share best prac- tices, obtain guidance on career paths for students, and join a network or com- munity with which to share ideas and develop shared principles and values. Professional societies play a role in facilitating community building and resource sharing through convening groups. They also present an entity that can set standards and determine parameters for program evaluations and potential ac- creditation, as well as lead efforts for standardized data collection about students, employees, and employers. Such capabilities would be valuable to both sustain- ability education programs and the sustainability workforce. One role played by professional societies in the United States is to serve as an accreditor. The committeeâs statement of task (see Box 1-1) requested that the committee consider the feasibility of accreditation of sustainability programs to strengthen them and to further engage with the SDGs. Our internal deliberations and consultations across the three workshops did not lead to a clear consensus. In consideration of possible accreditation in the future, several participants sug- gested strategies that are more voluntary and less rigorous than a full-bore ac- creditation program yet still useful to students and other stakeholders. Recommendation 5.2: Professional societies focusing on sustainabil- ity education should pursue collaborative opportunities to (i) pro- vide a forum for convening sustainability students, researchers, and professionals; (ii) build partnerships with the public and the private sectors; (iii) offer formalized training and mentorship; (iv) promote information sharing; (v) develop shared principles and values; (vi) establish a model for assessing sustainability education programs; and (vii) establish and lead a cross-sectoral effort to track and ana- lyze employment in sustainability-focused jobs. To clarify the obligations of various stakeholders to strengthen sustainability programs in higher education, the final chapter compiles and organizes the com- mitteeâs recommendations by stakeholder to strengthen sustainability programs in higher education, in addition to research agendas, given the urgency of our global sustainability challenges. While the committee assigns recommendations to a particular stakeholder, their implementation will often require collaborative efforts by several or all stakeholders. The tremendous growth and evolution of sustainability curricula, research, and practicum programs at undergraduate and graduate levels provide an opportunity to address the urgent environmental, economic, and societal challenges of communities. The analysis and recom- mendations offered in this report are intended to assist governments, higher education institutions, private and nonprofit organizations, students, professional
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