Every time Sierra Magazine comes out with its top green colleges list I get pissed off that my alma mater, Bowdoin College, doesn’t make the cut. And the reason I’m pissed is that it seems to me that even if you didn’t care one little tiny bit about climate or environment–if all you cared about was endowment, physical plant, and US News ranking–as an undergraduate institution you’d create a killer Enviornmental Studies program with a climate focus simply to recruit students and make money as a business.
Why? Because people are banging down the doors, almost literally, to study the interface between climate, politics and business so they can be part of the great challenge of our lives. And schools that train people well in that field will not only do well as both businesses and schools, they will also meet the needs of their students.
Perhaps more importantly, it’s the job of an institution of higher learning to prepare its students for the world in which they live; it’s also important to be in tune with the issues of our time. And if you’re Bowdoin and other schools, part of your mission is also to improve the world. To its credit, Bowdoin is moving in the right direction. But it’s getting crushed by archrivals like Bates (WTF!) and Middlebury. The hottness of the subject of climate, energy and business is so great that I get a call a week from Middlebury grads (!) who are well-trained and understand the key issues. It’s a huge testament to Middlebury’s success that right now we’ve got one Midd grad working for us [at Aspen Skiing Company] on sustainability and another interning. It’s no accident.
Schools that want to remain viable and relevant would be well advised to take a lesson from Middlebury and the other great schools on the top 20 list. The lesson could be a moral one: this is the work of our society, so it’s your job to eduate to it. But it could also be a financial lesson: when my kids look at colleges, 15 years from now, you can bet your hat they’re going to be scrutinizing the Environmental Studies program, and partly basing their decision to spend hundreds of thousands of my hard-earned cash to go there (brief pause while I have a momentary breakdown/panic attack over this thought). They will pick the school with the very best program because 20 years from now, if you’re not climate-focused, you’re not going to be anything. (In the same way, architecture programs without a green focus are dead and worthless programs today, if then even exist at all.)
Hopefully, my kids will have a wide range of easy choices, since the schools lacking such programs will be out of business.