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What Are the Different Types of Sustainability Degree Programs?

By Florence J. Tipton
Updated Feb 12, 2024
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Academic institutions may offer sustainability degrees in areas that cover both a liberal and scientific education. A liberal education generally focuses on the sociological and economical systems related to sustainability issues within communities. Sustainability degree programs in scientific education typically examine ecological and biological systems. Students can complete sustainability degree programs for undergraduate, graduate, and certificate studies. In any of these, coursework might consider how the liberal and scientific aspects of sustainability either converge or diverge to cause environmental and urban issues.

Various types of educational levels exist for environmental and urban sustainability degree programs. Undergraduate degree programs provide an academic foundation in the sustainability field of study. Graduate degree programs expand the knowledge acquired during an undergraduate program and might cover more complex issues. Certificate programs are usually for students who prefer not to pursue graduate studies for a sustainability education.

With the foundation an undergraduate degree provides in sustainability issues, students learn which factors can cause problems. For example, students could study the role that technology and cultural constraints have in creating sustainability issues. By understanding these factors, students might learn innovative approaches to solving these issues.

Enrolling in a graduate degree program may enlarge students’ capacity for understanding the impact of sustainability issues. Within these degree programs, students may learn how to connect theories with human behavior and the relationship of such behavior to sustainability issues. A graduate degree program might also train students to fulfill leadership roles that effect change in disadvantaged communities.

Generally, a certificate is an abbreviated program requiring less time commitment than the graduate program. Although students spend less time in a certificate program, they still experience a robust curriculum in sustainability issues. Many programs provide students with an applied learning approach for opportunities to practice theories in real-world settings.

Actual curriculum and other program details may vary among universities, colleges, and institutions that have sustainability degree programs. Most courses cover the fundamental concepts that impact sustainability issues, whether environmental, cultural, or global. For a well-rounded sustainability education, coursework might also cover the impact that usage of land and water has on communities.

The environmental track of sustainability degree programs examines changes to organisms within natural habitats. These types of programs may study the importance of exploring sustainability mechanisms that might affect human communities and natural environments. Additionally, these programs could teach the social responsibility aspects of community citizens — whether residents or corporations — and how to best manage resources.

Similar to the environmental track, urban sustainability degree programs might also study the environment and society within disadvantaged communities. Essentially, study areas for urban degree programs include planning, policy, advocacy, education, practices, and research. The goal of these study areas is to balance sustainability and quality of life issues affecting urban communities.

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