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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Environmental Studies Enrollment Soars

By Kate Galbraith

StudentThe Evergreen State College A student in an undergraduate environmental studies program at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., studies lichen ferns.

With his emphasis on renewable energy and green jobs, President Barack Obama has picked an issue that resonates with his core supporters — young people.

At colleges around the country, students seem to be flocking to environmental studies.

At Boston College, 17 students minored in environmental studies in 2003; this year 44 students will do so (assuming everyone graduates).

Iowa State University has seen the number of students enrolled in environmental studies and environmental science programs soar from 99 students in fall 2003 to more than 150 last fall.

William Crumpton, who chairs the environmental sciences and environmental studies major at Iowa State, said that a recruiting push had been helpful, but mainly students simply seem more interested in environmental issues, partly at the expense of biotechnology, a traditional draw.

“I had this sense that environmental issues got a lot more press — or maybe more effective press — in last four to five years,” said Mr. Crumpton.

At the University of Virginia, “We have definitely seen an increase in majors over the past two-three years, but where we have really increased are the environmental science courses we teach to non-majors,” said Jay Zieman, the chair of the University of Virginia’s environmental sciences department in an e-mail message. “That number has increased 45 percent over the past five years.”

The one slight outlier of my four-college survey was the University of Pennsylvania. The number of undergraduates majoring in environmental studies peaked at 44 in 2002, but now is down to 32 (still higher than the 20 in 1999). However, the number of master’s degrees in environmental policy hit a 10-year high last year, and the university has seen a spurt of master’s enrollment in related areas like hydrology.

The student interest comes as a range of universities, from Stanford to the University of Toledo, are working to beef up their alternative-energy research.

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