Green at the forefront: Community colleges and vocational schools train students in green managerial programs for high-demand environmentally-driven careers.

Community Colleges Offer Education for Environmental Managers

Environmentally friendly initiatives have been brewing for quite some time, but a truly forward-thinking, earth-friendly economy requires a new breed of managers. "Green-collar" jobs have garnered the nation's attention, and some community colleges and vocational institutions are answering the call.

A New Trend of "Green" Jobs and Education

The federal government is also heeding the green light, pouring $500 million into education designated for green jobs. The sector is predicted to quadruple over the next decade, totaling about 1.3 million people, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in a March 2010 report financed by the Energy Department.

Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., is at the forefront of the collegiate and vocational school green revolution. It currently offers two-year associate degree programs in energy management, renewable energy and water conservation.

Practicing what it preaches, Lane Community College operates an organic garden, and has replaced older faucets and toilets with water-conserving versions. An early proponent of environmental education, the college's degree courses are models for 10 other community colleges, according to Robert Ebbage, director of energy programs at the college's Northwest Energy Education Institute.

According to Ebbage, green grads are in high demand.

"They are working for utilities, on engineering jobs, for school districts, cities and the military," he says. "We're not going to be in areas where there's no job demand," he explains, referring to some criticism of short-term green job educational programs that led to few employment opportunities.

Responding to workforce demand for its managerial graduates, Lane Community College accelerated its two-year program with the help of an $890,000 federal grant in August 2010. The monies translated into a trial program in which students are able to earn their energy management degree programs in fewer academic terms. To boot, their tuition is partially subsidized as part of the federal funds for green education, including a $2,500 tuition tax credit.

Opportunities in Energy Management

Green careers are gaining popularity among students, too. After an 18-year career at Hewlett Packard, Matthew Heflin, 49, opted to get his energy management degree from Lane Community College after his position with HP was eliminated. Heflin, a military veteran without a college degree, sought to be prepared for a green economy.

"I was first interested in wind or solar, but then I heard about the energy management program," Heflin explains. "Now I'm taking math, physics and three energy management classes, including sustainability."

With demand high, 10 additional colleges are enhancing their energy management programs over a three-year period with the help of a separate grant. These colleges include American River College in Sacramento, Calif.; Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay; Delaware Technical and Community College; and West Virginia University in Parkersburg.

Similar education is offered in rural areas as well, with online environmental degree programs and certificates available.

As demand for a more earth-friendly economy grows, so do educational and employment opportunities for graduates of green managerial programs. Community colleges and vocational schools have taken heed. Green is just getting started.

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