Top Environmental Degrees for Less Money

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Last year, President Obama pledged to double the production of renewable energy over the next three years, create jobs in the development of new energy technologies and increase the energy efficiency of millions of American homes. Photo: Flickr/James Sarmiento

As climate change and other major environmental issues continue to weigh heavy on voters’ minds, green jobs are increasing drastically.

In fact, clean energy economy jobs grew by 9.1 percent between 1998 and 2007, while total jobs grew by only 3.7 percent, reports The Pew Charitable Trust after surveying jobs in every state and the District of Columbia.

Here’s a list of eco-conscious degree for less than you might expect:

1. Sustainable farmer, urban gardener or CSA coordinator

According to the USDA, the number of farm operators dropped by 30 percent from 2002 to 2007.  However, more community members are promoting the purchase of locally grown food, as shown by the rise in Community Supported Agriculture groups.

Also, nonchemical practices for growing crops that make economic sense to farmers have been developed, says The Union of Concerned Scientists on the importance of sustainable farms.

Earning a degree in Organic Agricultural Systems from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. cost in-state students $5,415 for the 2009-2010 academic and $16, 428 for out-of-state students.

According to the Princeton Review’s new green rating, Evergreen earned a nearly perfect score: 98 of a possible 99. Sierra Magazine also named Evergreen as one of the nation’s top 10 “coolest” schools for its efforts to address global warming and engage the campus in environmental conservation.

If you want to head South for a bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Agriculture, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette may be the right place. In-state tuition runs about $2,007.85 per semester, while out-of-state students pay $6,293.

2. Renewable Energies sector training

Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia have enacted enforceable and renewable electricity standards, reports the Union of Concerned Scientists.  By becoming trained in installing solar power or fabricating wind turbines and other renewable technologies, you can help states convert to clean energy and meet their electricity goals.

At Hudson Valley Community College, in Troy, N.Y. – where Obama visited in September 2009 in part to praise the community college for creating new training programs in the green technologies field – the cost to certified residents of New York state to attend full time is $1,550 and $4,650 for out-of-state students and non-certified residents of New York.

The Joint Institute of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory offers an energy graduate certificate program that provides broad exposure to energy issues, with an emphasis on renewable and sustainable energy.

Citing the need for people from all disciplines to solve society’s energy-related problems, the certificate is a supplement to a degree program; therefore, you can receive a graduate degree in another field, such as environmental journalism, for instance, while earning the certificate. For most graduate degree programs, in-state tuition currently holds at $4,095 per semester for nine or more credit hours and out-of-state is about $11,673.

3. Energy-efficient designer or certified home energy rater

The need to make homes and buildings more energy-efficient is on the rise, as fuel costs continue to rise and communities are more aware of greenhouse gas emissions. In Boulder, Colo., for example, the ClimateSmart Loan program offers rebates and financing for conducting a home-energy audit.

Through the built environment master’s program, you can earn a concentration in Energy Performance Climate-Responsive Architecture at Arizona State University School of Architecture and become an expert in energy efficiency design and technology. Resident graduate tuition was $3,564 for seven or more credit hours for the spring 2010 semester and $5,292 for non-residents.

Although these programs are not university-affiliated, for less than $1,000, you can become an accredited home energy rater through an accredited Energy Rater Training program. A list of these programs can be found on the Residential Energy Network’s Web site.

4. Environmental policy

Having more people who understand the interface of science and policy is critical as we look for solutions to environmental issues and mitigating climate change. Despite suggestions on action against climate change, there has been a lack of effective policies. It’s not about getting the science right, it’s about getting the policies right, notes Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University in his column in Nature.com.

Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs offers a bachelor’s of science in Public Affairs, in which you can learn to ameliorate environmental problems through public policy. For 30 credit hours, working toward the degree cost Indiana residents $8,759.10 for the 2009-2010 academic year, while it was a bit more for non-residents –  $25,509.90.

Earn a master’s degree in Energy Analysis and Policy from University of Wisconsin-Madison in the La Follette School and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and become prepared to work with governments and organizations concerned with energy issues. In-state students spent $5,258.88 for eight or more credit hours for the Spring 2010 semester, and out-of-state students spent $12,536.24.

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