Graduate Certificate Programs in Sustainability
Graduate certificate programs in sustainability provide career-centered training in the economics and science of sustainability, climate change, renewable energy, and other environmental issues and their practical applications in business, government, and the non-profit sector. These programs are designed for students who hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and typically consist of four or five graduate-level courses that prepare students to work as entrepreneurs, professionals, consultants, and specialists in the green economy. In addition, while sustainability graduate certificate programs culminate in the conferral of an academic credential rather than a degree, many of these programs are comprised of courses that overlap with master’s degree programs in sustainability, environmental science, and other related fields.
Thus, students can gain practical skills to advance their career while earning graduate credits that may be eligible for transfer to a master’s degree program, if and when a student decides to pursue further graduate studies in the field.
As an academic discipline and a professional field, sustainability focuses on measuring the extent to which human activity impacts the environment and devising plans, policies, and practices that reduce environmental harm, conserve natural resources, and facilitate economic growth and innovation in business, government, and the non-profit sector. Sustainability experts draw on the latest findings in atmospheric, climate, and oceanographic sciences, developments in civil and environmental engineering, and research into solar, wind, and other alternative energy sources to help businesses, communities, and governments develop sustainability plans, implement sustainability practices, and integrate new technologies that promote environmentally friendly solutions to challenging problems.
Indeed, professionals with training in sustainability are employed throughout the economy. This includes roles in manufacturing and industrial fields, in the service and recreational industries, in urban planning and infrastructure development, and in other enterprises in which public pressure, governmental regulations, and economic necessities encourage the adoption of sustainable practices.
Identifying and Classifying Graduate Certificate Programs in Sustainability
Graduate certificate programs are by definition non-degree academic programs that confer an academic credential issued by an accredited college or university to qualifying students who hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and who complete a specified number of graduate-level courses in a particular field or discipline. Sustainability graduate certificate programs are programs of this type that offer training and instruction in topics that are central to work in the field of sustainability.
These programs are commonly offered by departments, divisions, and schools of environmental science, environmental studies, and environmental engineering at colleges and universities that offer graduate degree programs in sustainability management and policy, as well as by schools of professional studies and continuing education within larger universities. However, unlike a master’s or doctoral degree in sustainability or environmental science, which can take two, three, or more years to complete, sustainability graduate certificate programs are typically designed to be completed in one year or less.
While most sustainability graduate certificate programs accept applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree in any field or discipline, some programs are designed for students who have prior training in the environmental sciences. Finally, in addition to postbaccalaureate graduate certificate programs, there are post-master’s certificate programs that require applicants to hold a master’s degree.
Sustainability Graduate Certificate Coursework
The structure of graduate certificate programs varies by school and by program. However, sustainability graduate certificate programs typically require the completion of four or five graduate courses that cover topics relevant to working in the green economy, such as environmental law and policy, sustainable development practices, and business models for sustainability enterprises.
The specific composition of sustainability graduate certificate program curricula also varies by school and by program. Some programs focus more on technical aspects of sustainability projects, while others place more emphasis on sustainability planning, policy, and management. There are also programs that allow students to tailor the training they receive through elective coursework. The list below draws on actual sustainability graduate certificate programs to provide a representative overview of the types of courses commonly offered by these programs.
- Climate Change Law and Policy
- Environmental Economics
- Environmental Law
- Foundations of Sustainable Development
- Green Building and Sustainable Cities
- Renewable Energy Projects
- Social and Environmental Justice
- Renewable Energy and Nonmarket Enterprise
- Sustainable Transportation
- Sustainability Policy and Practice
- Water and Food Sustainability
Online Graduate Certificate in Sustainability
Graduate certificate programs are generally designed to accommodate a range of students, including recent college graduates who have just entered the workforce and mid-career professionals who have full-time jobs. One way that many schools accomplish this is by using distance learning technologies in order to offer graduate certificate programs in an online format.
Online sustainability graduate certificate programs utilize learning management systems (LMSs) that support web conferencing, the streaming of live and pre-recorded lectures, virtual class sessions, and other types of online instruction. Students in these programs take the same types of courses as students in campus-based programs and receive the same training in sustainability principles and practices, but are able to do so from anywhere with a secure internet connection.
Some programs utilize synchronous instruction, which is the classification for online instruction that takes place in real time and thus requires students to be logged on to a program’s LMS at specific times, just as they would be expected to be present at campus-based classes. For programs that use synchronous instruction, most live sessions are held in the early to late evening or on the weekend so that working professionals can attend. They are also often recorded in case a student needs to miss a class, but in general, students are expected to attend the live sessions.
Other programs offer all of their coursework via asynchronous instruction, a mode of online instruction that does not have a real-time component and which thus allows students to access pre-recorded lectures and other course materials at their convenience, 24-7. For programs that use asynchronous instruction, students interact with instructors and classmates through online discussion forums. Some professors may also have live office hours that are optional for students to attend, and students can often email or message professors through the program’s LMS.
Students who know they need or would prefer a specific type of online instruction should research programs and choose one that best meets their desired learning style. For example, asynchronous instruction provides more scheduling flexibility than synchronous instruction, but also has less structure. Students who cannot routinely attend scheduled classes and who are independent learners therefore should explore programs that mainly or only use asynchronous instruction. Conversely, synchronous instruction provides more structure and may be preferable to students who feel they would benefit from an online learning experience that is similar to attending in-person, campus-based classes; however, this mode of instruction requires students to be able to set aside specific times during which they must be online for classes.
GraduateCertificates.com classifies programs that provide all of their instruction via online learning technologies as online programs. In addition, programs that offer most of their instruction online but which require students to attend a limited number of campus visits (no more than three per year) are also classified as online programs. Programs that require more than three campus visits annually are classified as blended or hybrid programs. While these programs offer some of their instruction online and are thus relatively more convenient and flexible than fully campus-based programs, they may not be a practical option for students who do not live or work within commuting range of the school offering the program.
Examples of Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Sustainability Management
The examples below provide a representative overview of the types of graduate certificate programs in sustainability that are currently offered online by accredited colleges and universities.
Harvard University offers an online Sustainability Graduate Certificate program through Harvard Extension School. The 15-credit program consists of five courses that can be applied toward a Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) in Sustainability program offered by Harvard. Students in the certificate program take one foundational course in sustainability and sustainable development and then select four electives from among Harvard Extension School graduate course offerings in topics that include sustainable urban development, environmental economics, renewable energy projects, and climate change law and policy. The program is designed for students who hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, and it does not require students to attend any campus visits. For more information on the program, visit Harvard Extension School at www.extension.harvard.edu.
Loyola University Chicago (LUC) offers an online Sustainability Assessment and Planning Graduate Certificate program through its School of Environmental Sustainability. The program consists of four courses that confer 12 graduate credits and that can be completed in eight months without any campus visits. Students who complete the certificate program can transfer into a Master of Environment Science and Sustainability program offered by LUC with their certificate program credits intact. The certificate program requires students to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. For more information on the program, visit Loyola University Chicago at www.luc.edu.
The University of Denver (DU) offers an online Energy and Sustainability Graduate Certificate program through its University College division. Students who hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university can choose from two certificate program tracks: a 16-credit track that can be completed in six months; or a 24-credit, six-course track that takes 12 months to complete. The 16-credit option consists of four courses in environmental systems, alternative energies, sustainability policy and practice, and sustainable transportation systems. The 24-credit option allows students to take two additional elective courses that cover topics in green building, hydrogen and nuclear energy, and water and food sustainability. Both program options require students to hold a bachelor’s degree and neither track requires any campus visits. For more information on the program, visit DU’s University College at universitycollege.du.edu.
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