By Mitchell Clute
Imagine you’re a student attending, say, College of the Atlantic, on an island off the coast of Maine. You’ve studied the local watersheds, researched the flora and fauna of this coastal zone—but now you want to learn about deserts, and there are no deserts for thousands of miles.
You can fill out a simple form and
spend the next semester at a college in
Arizona, studying desert ecosystems.
Enter EcoLeague. This academic consortium of like-minded colleges offers students the opportunity to study at any of the six member schools, all of which are committed to sustainability. Without changing your tuition payment, you can fill out a simple form and spend the next semester at a college in Arizona, studying desert ecosystems.
“For all EcoLeague schools, classes are filtered through the lens of conservation and ecology,” explains EcoLeague program coordinator Kelly Morse, based at member school Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. Other members include Prescott College in Arizona, Alaska Pacific University in Alaska, College of the Atlantic in Maine, Green Mountain College in Vermont, and Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.
“In order to make the exchange as easy as possible, we ask students to submit a simple three-page form, and then I coordinate between the home and host schools, ensuring that financial aid applies and tuition remains the same,” Morse says. “Credits transfer back and forth effortlessly. We aim to make this as seamless as possible—and because students can take up to two semesters through the program, it’s possible to study at three different green schools.”
One of the most popular destinations is Prescott College—in part because the school has a regular curriculum involving time in the Grand Canyon. My son Kieran graduates from Prescott this spring, and I can attest that he has spent at least as much time in the wilderness as in the classroom—climbing, kayaking, studying botany, leading backpacking trips and, yes, rafting the Grand Canyon. He’s pictured above, at the canyon’s rim; the view alone explains why students might want to make the trek west for a semester.
“These exchanges offer a depth and breadth
of education they just couldn’t get at home.”
But every destination offers unique opportunity, indicates Morse. “A student might learn about river ecology in Wisconsin, then go to Arizona and find it’s quite different,” she says. “These exchanges offer a depth and breadth of education they just couldn’t get at home.”
Since its founding in 2003, the consortium has grown from being focused solely on student exchanges to include faculty collaboration and curriculum sharing, with more growth planned in the future. “At this point,” says Morse, “we cover four major bioregions, and we’re starting to look at the possibility of urban partners and international partners.”
The current schools all have easy access to rural areas, but Morse foresees the possibility of urban learning in a way that meets the member schools’ ecological models. “An urban school,” she points out, “could provide unique opportunities by looking at food deserts, food sovereignty, and the use of architecture to green cities.”
But regardless of what the future holds, EcoLeague is already earning attention. For example, Princeton University’s annual school review creates an annual list of green colleges; this year, the consortium’s schools hold three of the top ten places on that list. And students are drawn to the wide range of options the schools make available.
“Students today are probably not going to stay in one career,” Morse shares. “They are likely to have many jobs, and going to an EcoLeague school can build adaptability and innovation. Those are the skills students need for the future as the economy and job markets change.”
For more information about EcoLeague and its member colleges, visit www.ecoleague.org.