Crunching the Numbers

Students are adding small fees onto their tuition to make a big impact on the environment.

By Tristan Fowler
December 5, 2008

Wind turbines in Wasco, Oregon (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

All those environmental studies majors out there should consider getting a minor in accounting or financing, because the future of “Going Green” has become a numbers game. The upfront costs of energy efficient renovations, LEED-certified buildings, and renewable energy credits can be encumbering to the campus sustainability coordinators and staggering to students in the local environmental club. Late last month, Alfred State College installed a 5.1 kilowatt photovoltaic grid intertie system. It cost $45,000. The University of Saskatchewan is replacing 26,000 light fixtures with energy-efficient bulbs at a cost of $1.9 million over three years. So what can a recession-era institution with Ramen noodle-eating students do? Just follow the example of over 25 campuses that are barely raising their tuition rates, and reaping huge benefits.

Rachel Barge, a 2008 grad from University of California–Berkley, has started a consulting non-profit, Campus InPower, which provides large-scale funding strategies and resources for college students. During her undergrad at University of California Berkley, Barge helped run a successful green fee campaign, raising the tuition by $5 per student. The minor fees added up to between $170,000 and $200,000 each year for sustainable projects. A committee of students, faculty and administrators decide how to best use the funds. The funding has paid for educational programming, created a native plant nursery, and built a campus-wide resource monitoring system.

Many colleges and universities are using the money to buy their electricity from wind and solar power. At University of California–Santa Cruz, 69 percent of the student body voted to have a $3 per quarter fee increase to purchase renewable energy. The fee generates $135,000 every year. With this student money, the university is operating on 100 percent renewable energy.

In some cases, students have decided the best way to use their bucks is in a revolving loan fund. The idea is that energy and resource efficient upgrades save money. With that extra savings, students and administrators can reinvest into more efficiencies. Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minnesota, established a $27,000 fund in early 2006 with funds from the student government and the Environmental studies program, and they have a goal of increasing the fund to $100,000. Anyone or any group can offer a proposal, which they will receive all the extra savings after the initial loan and interest are reimbursed.

Eco-minded students and administrators will continue to crunch the numbers, but here are a few more numbers to keep in mind. This week, more than 600 college and universities have pledged to make their campus carbon neutral through the American College & University Presidential Climate Commitment. And with more than 7,000 students who attended PowerShift ’07 in Washington, D.C., it certainly appears the numbers are shifting in favor of the environment.

Tristan Fowler is an Intern at Science Progress and a senior at Ithaca College.

This post from Campus Progress Magazine, at

About Rachel

Rachel is Executive Director of CleantechU, where she works with campus leaders at the student, faculty and administrator level to create multi-disciplinary communities of cleantech entrepreneurship at leading U.S. universities. Prior to CleantechU, Rachel ran the Business Council on Climate Change (BC3), a membership organization of over 100 major Bay Area companies committed to sharing best practices on climate solutions. In 2008, Rachel founded Campus InPower, a non-profit consultancy that delivers innovative funding mechanisms to college campuses seeking to create multi-million dollar sustainability funds. Rachel graduated from UC Berkeley in 2008 with a degree in Conservation and Resource Studies and Forestry, and is winner of the David Brower Youth Award, Morris K. Udall Fellowship, and Big Ideas at Berkeley Innovation Grant.

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