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Sierra magazine
Cool Schools: The Third Annual List

Community Service:
When junior colleges outclass the Ivy League

It's not just upper-tier schools with their huge endowments and high-profile organic gardens that are leading the higher-ed green revolution. America's 1,200 community colleges are also doing their part.

In 1995, Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, sent students to work on a nearby Superfund site. Negligent chemical disposal at the Massachusetts Military Reservation had contaminated water supplies, and CCCC students were on the cleanup effort's front lines. The school has been a sustainability leader ever since: Maintenance staffers drive electric vehicles, water use has been cut in half, and the school's new applied-science center was Massachusetts's first publicly funded LEED-certified building.

In 2007, the Illinois Community College Sustainability Network (ilccsn.org) began helping the state's 48 community colleges share programs and train students for green careers. "For every eco-consultant that comes out of a four-year college, we train 10 to 15 technicians," said Bert Jacobson, the network's program director. "Community colleges are nicely positioned for green-collar jobs because we train the midlevel workers."

The Los Angeles Community College District has undertaken a voter-approved $5.7 billion overhaul of facilities at the district's nine schools. So far, 28 buildings are on track to become LEED certified. "The commitment to sustainability at the highest levels gives us the freedom to actively pursue green-workforce training," said Marcy Drummond, the district's vice president of academic affairs. "We have the policy, leadership, and resources to make this work."

One problem remains: Commuters account for 52 percent of community-college greenhouse-gas emissions, a much higher percentage than at four-year institutions, where students tend to live on or near campus. Jacobson sees no easy solution, especially in regions like rural Illinois: "For most of our students, the bus doesn't run anywhere near their homes." —Mario Aguilar

Illustration by Nate Williams

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