Are 'green' college majors worth the hype?

According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, 100 majors, minors and certificate programs were created at American colleges and universities in 2009, with focuses on topics like renewable energy and green technology.

According to the USA Today, "The Obama administration has estimated that jobs in energy and environmental-related occupations will grow 52% from 2000 through 2016, vs. 14% for other occupations. That's partly why budget-strapped schools are adding energy and sustainability programs even while cutting other majors ... "

Job growth projections like that are certainly a strong selling point for these programs, but parents and prospective college students should be wary: many of these programs are likely to be more marketing savvy hype to lure recruits in an increasingly competitive market for tuition-paying students than real, value-added opportunities to gain valuable skills and knowledge that will lead to success in the workplace.

Here are a few questions I would ask myself, administrators, and prospective post-graduation employers before enrolling in these new green tech majors:

  • The field of green technology is incredibly dynamic and is changing rapidly. How do you know that the information you're giving me in my freshman year won't be useless by my senior year?
  • Do employers really recognize this training as exceptionally valuable? Would it offer an advantage over and beyond what more traditional majors like engineering or biology might offer in the workplace? Ask recruiters at big companies this question -- and don't stick to a list of names provided by the institution trying to sell you on its program.
  • How many green tech courses are offered under the program? Is it a case of taking mostly standard engineering/science classes and then the school slaps on a few "green technology seminars" to create the major?
As with all college decisions, remember: colleges are just like any other business focused on selling and recruiting customers. Be skeptical.

And one final note: according to a recent report from the London School of Economics, contraception is the most cost effective green-friendly technology out there. So if your kid really wants to save the planet, becoming a sex ed teacher might be the best option.
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