New toolkit helps colleges meet job demand in renewables

Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin has huge solar energy system, which helps it save $200,000 to $250,000 a year in utility costs. (Photo: MATC)

Community college leaders looking to start new programs to prepare students for in-demand careers in alternative energy and related fields have a new resource.

The Sustainability Education & Economic Development (SEED) Center has produced a new free toolkit on “Incorporating Job Growth Areas into Curricula.”

The COVID pandemic is causing huge shifts in the economy, says Debra Rowe, president of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development. technical advisor at the SEED Center and longtime community college professor of renewable energies.

While many people are losing jobs, the renewable energy sector is booming.

Jobs in the solar industry have grown 167 percent over the past decade, the toolkit states. And between 2014 and 2019, solar employment increased 44 percent, five times faster than job growth in the overall U.S. economy. Wind energy has also experienced strong growth.

SEED Center resources

The SEED Center website has more than 1,000 free, vetted resources on solar energy, wind energy, green buildings, energy efficiency, food and sustainable agriculture, transportation and fuels, sustainability education, and clean technology.

The resources include instructional materials for teachers; curriculum guides; best practices; information on certification programs; and opportunities for mentoring, professional development and collaboration.

The SEED Center was started by a task force of college presidents who understood the green economy was growing, Rowe says. They saw the need for colleges to ramp up programs to train people for careers in these industries.

Nearly 480 colleges are members of the SEED Center, which was initially managed by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). It was subsequently spun off and is now part of the National Council for Workforce Education, a council affiliated with AACC and based at Bellevue College in Washington.

The new toolkit will be discussed at a keynote session at the council’s virtual 2020 conference on October 8.

Something for everyone

The toolkit on job growth offers resources from the Center for Renewable Energy Advanced Technological Education (CREATE), a program funded by the National Science Foundation; the Building Efficiency for a Sustainable Tomorrow (BEST) Center; the Building Performance Institute; the Center for Green Schools; and the sustainable food systems programs at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan.

“Even schools that don’t have programs in sustainability can find the resources useful if they want to integrate sustainability content across the curriculum. SEED is a wonderful resource for that,” says Ken Walz, director of CREATE and director of the renewal energy program at Madison Area Technical College (MATC) in Wisconsin.

For example, Walz says, an English professor could ask students to write essays about sustainability. Students in a math or business class working on financial analyses could look at the cost of green cleaning materials.

Job growth in solar

At MATC, overall enrollment is down about 10 percent, but the enrollment in the introductory renewable energy course has hit an all-time high, Walz says. Energy is considered a critical infrastructure during the pandemic, and the college program is drawing people displaced from other fields.

The college has a huge solar system, with 5,700 solar panels, on one of its buildings, which is saving the college $200,000 to $250,000 a year in utility bills, Walz says. The project cost $2.5 million and has a 10 percent return on investment, which is helping MATC offset cuts in state funding.

The project foreman graduated from MATC and hired several students as electrical apprentices. Three more solar projects will go online on campus this fall.

Other colleges interested in projects like that can find lots of help from the SEED Center.

The toolkit on job growth is one of several SEED Center toolkits – covering everything from how to create a community action plan on sustainability, to how to use a campus as a living lab.

For college leaders who don’t know how to get started on sustainability, “this work has been done for you,” Rowe says. “There are people who can help you do it.”

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.