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Opinion

Students support sustainable schools

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November 14, 2013

What we do not have is $1.7 million for our UW-River Falls Fiscal Year 2015. What we do have is an opportunity to rely on our resiliency as a University that has made a commitment to sustainable community development and action in the face of climate change.

I hope UWRF chooses to develop our campus’ future based on our assets instead of our shortcomings.

As high school students and their parents wonder whether it is worth it to get a college education, UWRF will benefit from green recruitment and marketing. The University needs to prove that our unique learning community is a great investment even during these uncertain economic times.

In Ben Lamers’ Student Voice article, “University Budget Falls” (Oct. 31, 2013), he notes a presentation by UWRF Assistant Chancellor for Business and Finance Elizabeth Frueh. “According to Frueh, there are 6,109 students enrolled at UWRF this year, down from 6,455 a year ago, a drop of 5.4 percent,” he stated. In sharing this, Frueh’s point was simple; if we can attract more tuition-paying students, we can be more financially sustainable as an academic institution.

Campus green practices will really be valued by incoming students as indicated by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP). The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies runs CIRP. In 2008, CIRP collected 240,580 responses from full-time incoming students at 340 campuses across the U.S.

“Almost a third of entering freshmen (29.5 percent) reported feeling it is “essential” or “very important” to help clean up the environment, an increase from 26.7 percent in 2007 and 22.2 percent in 2006. Close to half (45.3 percent) believe it is “very important” or “essential” to adopt green practices to protect the environment, while 74.3 percent believe “addressing global warming should be a federal priority,” according to CIRP.

UWRF needs to stay competitive by showing the ability to be relevant in the future. Our culture is becoming increasingly more literate about issues of sustainability. Actively engaging in learning about sustainability can make students job-ready and marketable in an economy that rewards adaptability.

At a recent conference on campus sustainability, Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities at Luther College Jon Jense posted that the growing green economy should encourage institutions to “make environmental sustainability a part of every student’s education.”

Indeed, it seems the financial value of sustainability efforts on campus are yet untapped. Prospective students and their parents really do seek out sustainable higher education over conventionally minded institutions.

The Princeton Review’s annual College Hopes and Worries Survey is a great indicator for this movement in valuing green universities. The 2013 survey had 9,955 responses from students applying to college as well as 4,170 parents with children applying to colleges distributed across the U.S.

One prominent question the survey asked was: “If you (your child) had a way to compare colleges based on their commitment to environmental issues (from academic offerings to practices concerning energy use, recycling, etc.), how much would this contribute to your (your child’s) decision to apply to or attend a school?”

In response, 62 percent of the students surveyed “strongly/very much/somewhat” agreed that campus sustainability would affect their decision of which school they would ultimately attend. Parents were closely in alignment with students having 61 percent of respondents also choose amongst strongly/very much/somewhat to describe their interest in their children attending a campus committed to sustainability.

What UWRF lacks in a padded budget is made up in the incredible efforts on campus to make a culture invested in a clean and healthy future for our community and the world as a whole. Our programs like the Sustainable Faculty Fellows, our buildings like LEED Gold certified Ames Suites, and our Office of Sustainability and the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development are assets that we already have and should highlight when we market to new students and families.

A sustainable college education is a safe value proposition. Thinking sustainably encourages individuals to develop inventive and resourceful solutions to current challenges that affect society, our community, the environment and the economy.

Molly Breitmün is a non-traditional student majoring in conservation with a minor in GIS. Her interest in campus sustainability was fostered by becoming an undergraduate fellow for the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development as well as by her peers in the Student Alliance for Local and Sustainable Agriculture.