Community colleges’ central role in the high school to college environmental pipeline for a diverse ecology workforce
Ecology-oriented associate degrees exist in urban and rural community colleges throughout the U.S. The community colleges are charged by their overall mission with providing access to higher education to the most diverse group of students, to meet the workforce development needs and be the catalyst for problem-solving in their regions. Environmental problem-solving is often associated with the college’s role in addressing local community concerns. Their faculty and students interact with local agencies in internships with technological, quality control and public policy environmental experiences. Community colleges engage students in programs that showcase applied research techniques, interdisciplinary connections and civic engagement. Most of these colleges have a strong partnership with local high schools, and include “dual-enrollment” initiatives that graduate the student with an associate degree while the student completes high school. Such “early college” program initiatives also involve transfer articulation agreements with the nearby four-year universities. These high schools may also be magnet schools with an environmentally-focused curriculum (e.g. marine sciences, green technologies, sustainable energy studies or natural resource management). I will discuss model ways in which the ecology pipeline is currently being built from high school to community colleges to help promote rapid entry of a diverse workforce into environmental careers.
Green curriculum “early college” programs exist in high schools co-located with community colleges, and are connected to local environmental service-learning experiences. Community college faculty teach their environmental curriculum in classes that engage high school and community college students in the educational training needed for the applied environmental workforce. Many of the high school/college partnerships are focusing on environmental health, nutritional education and community resource conservation. A 2014 survey of ESA community college faculty indicated that their top six environmental education topics in their classrooms consisted of discussion of water and air quality issues (regionally and globally), climate change, invasive species, ecosystem services, local environmental issues of interest (e.g. overpopulation, mountaintop removal, etc.) and conservation biology. The top four ways in which community colleges engaged local communities in ecological study and research included incorporating service-learning components into environmental courses, supervising independent high school and community college student research that addressed local environmental issues, speaking to high school and middle school students about ecology research, and engaging community members in citizen science projects. Academic and non-academic ecologists need to integrate with these existing community partnerships to increase the diversity of students engaged in ecological study and in earth stewardship best practices.