In a society increasingly aware of the complex challenges facing our planet, the demand for higher education in environmental topics has also grown. In compiling this list of 20 best colleges for the environmentally-minded student, we researched small campus communities that are especially proactive in Earth advocacy. These colleges also have a net price lower than other schools of this size and focus. We awarded points based on the presence of diverse environmental study options, committed “green” living initiatives on campus, fieldwork opportunities outside the classroom, multiple financial aid and scholarship opportunities, and any additional distinctions that enhance the student experience. The 20 colleges profiled here scored the highest among schools with maximum enrollment of 7,000 students and a net price (per College Navigator) of $32,000 USD or less.
The schools profiled below are ranked in order of points earned; in the event of a tie in points, the schools with the lower net price are ranked higher. The following serves as a guide for environmentalist students seeking the best options for their degree paths.
#20 – Drake University
Des Moines, Iowa
Net Price/Tuition: $27,052
Drake University, of the city of Des Moines, Iowa, is a private midwestern college focused on individualized education. Aspiring environmentalists at Drake often pursue a BA or BS in environmental science, where methods in research, analysis, policy, ethics, and other topics as they relate to planet preservation are taught. For students who prefer to learn through hands-on experience, this college places a great deal of emphasis on fieldwork. Some of the fieldwork opportunities include environmental projects at Neal Smith National Wildlife, Lakeside Laboratory in nearby Milford, and semester-long marine science studies at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.
#19 – Juniata College
Net Price/Tuition: $25,883
Juniata College of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania is a diverse, forward-thinking liberal arts community for students of varied interests. One of the biggest educational attractions at this school is the environmental science degree, where students can choose to concentrate in natural science, general studies, wildlife conservation, or environmental economics. Juniata is proud to sponsor fieldwork opportunities both regionally and abroad, and the nearby Raystown Lake is the site of one of the school’s science study stations. 85% of this college’s environmental science graduates advance to master’s programs with full financial aid or scholarship packages.
#18 – Georgia College & State University
Net Price/Tuition: $17,015
Founded in 1889, Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville has a consistent reputation for rigorous academics and energetic campus life. The Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences holds the most majors on campus (570, on average) and environmentally-minded students can earn both their BS and MS degrees. The faculty of Georgia College consists of scholar-level professors in a vast range of specializations. Outside the classroom, there is a student-run “Environmental Science Club” certain to appeal to those eager to explore extracurricular study.
#17 – University of Minnesota – Morris
Net Price/Tuition: $14,397
The University of Minnesota in the city of Morris is a liberal arts school with a small, committed community of students who are passionate about their studies. For the environmentally-minded, UMN offers a degree option based in science education, current environment challenges, natural resource preservation, and other issues relevant to planet sustainability. This institution works closely with incoming and current students to find merit-based scholarships, grants, and other types of financial assistance to keep college affordable. 94% of recent UNM alumni reported that they considered their degree to be a smart investment.
#16 – State University of New York at Plattsburgh
Plattsburgh, New York
Net Price/Tuition: $13,975
Settled in the beautiful Adirondack mountains in northern New York, SUNY Plattsburgh is a small, affordable liberal arts college with options for a diverse range of students. Plattsburgh’s environmental studies major is one of the most popular degree tracks, and individuals in this program take part in social sciences and humanities classes that are themed in environmentalism. All of these courses relay the complex issues facing the planet and how advocacy and activism can make a difference in the lives of generations to come.
#15 – Pomona College
Net Price/Tuition: $19,205
Pomona College of Claremont, California, is a private liberal arts college with a well-respected academic reputation and a highly selective admissions process. Many of the college’s planet-advocates join the environmental analysis program, where students learn about the many challenges facing our ability to sustain the Earth’s natural resources. Some of the course topics in this major encompass economics, social justice, human behavior, ethics, and society development. Pomona College is able to provide need-based financial aid packages to all qualified incoming students.
#14 – SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Net Price/Tuition: $18,251
SUNY College of Environment Science and Forestry of Syracuse, New York is a progressive liberal arts college highly focused on the study of the planet and its sustainability. Environmentally-minded students will feel right at home at this college, having the option to study nature, environmental systems, renewable energy sources, green practices, and many other related topics. The Green Campus Initiative, a student-run club at SUNY-ESF, is an organization that creates and implements Earth-kind practices on campus. Some of the efforts this initiative advocates for includes bike-friendly resources, composting, waste reduction, and more.
#13 – University of Hawaii at Hilo
Net Price/Tuition: $10,229
Settled in an island community in the city of Hilo, the University of Hawaii at Hilo is a college that places high value on its natural surroundings. Environmentally-minded students can earn either a BA or BS in environmental science, which is an interdisciplinary degree track designed to enhance the students’ understanding of issues facing the planet. This course of study is unique in that it includes a diverse range of academic fields; some of these fields include chemistry, marine science, anthropology, agriculture, sociology, and economics. Graduates of UH Hilo’s environment science department have succeeded in pursuing many different career choices.
#12 – Michigan Technological University
Net Price/Tuition: $15,629
Houghton’s Michigan Technological University is an internationally recognized research institution established in 1885. This college’s academic offerings in science, technology, business, and forestry are among the most well-known degree programs. The environmentally-inclined will have many concentrations to choose from, one of which is a degree in environmental and energy policy. This specialized education is a combination of science, sustainability, social responsibility, and an overall understanding of how our human behavior impacts the planet. MTU is proudly affiliated with environmental organizations including Center for Water and Society, Great Lakes Research Center, International Society for Ecological Economics, and US Society for Ecological Economics.
#11 – Bemidji State University
Net Price/Tuition: $13,488
Minnesota’s Bemidji University is a small academic community on a beautiful lakeside campus. For the environmentally-minded student, Bemidji’s Environmental Studies Program is a comprehensive degree in policy and sustainability practices; the Center for Environmental, Economic, Earth and Space studies prepares the highly-committed student for a wide range of careers in environment protection and advocacy. This college works closely with its nearby community, and joint efforts have earned Minnesota a GreenStep city certification.
#10 – University of Washington – Tacoma Campus
Net Price/Tuition: $9,410
The University of Washington in the city of Tacoma is an urban academic community that is both socially and environmentally conscious. Incoming students who consider themselves environmentally-minded will appreciate this college’s commitment to planet advocacy; UW is proud to be part of two organizations dedicated entirely to environmentalism: Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, and American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Among this institution’s many degree options is a BA in environmental science, where students receive an interdisciplinary science education (biology, geosciences, math, physics, and chemistry) in combination with humanities courses.
#9 – University of Redlands
Net Price/Tuition: $30,543
A dream college for any nature-oriented student, University of Redlands in California is a bright, active campus community. UR considers itself a “green college,” and has established multiple earth-friendly initiatives on campus; some of these initiatives include three LEED certified buildings, a cogeneration plant for less wasteful heating and cooling, recycling events, a campus community garden, and more. University of Redlands offers four programs of study related to environmentalism: Environmental Business, Environmental Policy and Management, Environmental Science, and Environmental Studies.
#8 – Allegheny College
Net Price/Tuition: $27,773
Allegheny College of Meadville, Pennsylvania is a rural, community-oriented liberal arts school with progressive values. The environmentally-minded student will appreciate Allegheny’s commitment to green practices on campus and its long list of opportunities to get hands-on experience in the surrounding natural landscape. Allegheny has invested in constructing LEED certified buildings, geo-exchange heating and cooling, a successful composting program, rain gardens, and wind-generated electricity, and many other related initiatives. This college’s environmental science degree was ranked #2 in the nation by the well-respected Environmentalscience.org.
#7 – Westfield State University
Net Price/Tuition: $15,498
Massachusetts’ Westfield State University is a distinguished academic community recognized for producing marketable graduates. Westfield offers an interdisciplinary education in environmental science, where students gain a comprehensive understanding of how our social behaviors impact our environment’s sustainability. There is a campus-wide commitment to green living, and budding planet activists may choose to join the increasingly popular “Environmental Planning Club,” WSU’s environmental science graduates go on to thriving careers in urban planning, scientific research, advocacy, environmental law, and many other vocations. The majority of Westfield’s recent alumni have reported finding their degree to have a solid return on investment.
#6 – Western State Colorado University
Net Price/Tuition: $14,792
Ranked among the “Top Environmentally Friendly Schools” by the Princeton Review, Western State Colorado University is a small college with big impact. There are tremendous learning opportunities for the environmentally-minded student, one of which is the Environment & Sustainability degree. This program addresses a wide range of environmental problems, natural sciences, politics, environmental economics, and other related topics. Outside the classroom, Western State’s scenic Rocky Mountain location offers an ideal outdoor learning experience for students conducting field-based environmental study. In addition, WSCU has established five different scholarship opportunities based on excellence in environmental academics.
#5 – University of Wisconsin – Green Bay
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Net Price/Tuition: $11,937
The University of Wisconsin at Green Bay is a four-year public school founded in 1965. The college’s original academic focus was environmental sustainability, but has since branched out its options for degree concentrations. UW-Green Bay has earned the nickname “Eco-U” for its unwavering commitment to green campus practices and planet advocacy. The Environmental Management and Business Institute (EMBI) was established by the school to have an organized means to strengthen the University’s leadership in environmentally-minded initiatives and programming. EMBI’s outreach extends into the nearby community, engaging Green Bay’s businesses to adopt more earth-friendly habits.
#4 – Colorado College
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Net Price/Tuition: $24,141
Found in the vibrant town of Colorado Springs, Colorado College is a learning environment ideal for students seeking a uniquely structured education. The college’s “Block Plan” allows students to immerse themselves in one course at a time, leaving opportunity for more independent growth and extracurricular work. The environmental program is highly popular among the student body, and its majors take on curriculum in science, policy, chemistry, environmental physics, and more. The department’s minor in environmental issues is the perfect addition for a well-rounded education in the field.
#3 – Colby College
Net Price/Tuition: $18,477
Maine’s prestigious Colby College is a higher education institution that has earned national recognition for its challenging academics. The environmental studies program is a comprehensive major for students who wish to explore the planet’s many complex issues. Some of the environmental problems addressed include climate change, loss of natural resources, biodiversity, and other relevant topics. Students are also encouraged to participate in off-site research opportunities. Colby’s environmental science faculty members are at the top of their field and highly engaged with each student’s individual goals.
#2 – Willamette University
Net Price/Tuition: $30,672
Willamette University, a quaint liberal arts school in Salem, Oregon, was established in 1842 as the first university in the western US. This college has consistently shown leadership in planet sustainability initiatives, which will prove appealing to environmentally-minded students. There is a campus-wide commitment to green practices, a few of which include LEED Gold certified building construction, and an advanced energy management system that is designed to cut consumption in half by 2020. All students are encouraged to participate in rideshare programs, and free bike loans reduce car exhaust emission.
#1 – Green Mountain College
Net Price/Tuition: $23,275
Set on a remote, scenic campus in Poultney, Vermont, Green Mountain College is one of most widely recognized campuses for nature-friendly living. This college continues to receive accolades for its green practices, some of which include a perfect score on the Princeton Review’s “Environmental Honor Roll” list, and a gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in 2014. In addition, Green Mountain College became the nation’s first campus with total climate neutrality, thanks to a system of clean energy, local carbon offsets, and other related strategies.
By Tracy Eisenberg
Published June 2016
The list above is a ranking of the top 20 small colleges for environmentally-minded students.