CSUN Sustainability 2020

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Sustainability Knowledge Assessment

Sustainability Knowledge Assessment at a Large, Regional, Minority-Serving Institution

Abstract: To assess the sustainability literacy of students at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), we administered a modified version of the Assessment of Sustainability Knowledge (ASK) to 2,993 students in 60 courses over 5 semesters. CSUN is a large minority-serving institution with a regional focus. Within the general student population, students gain about 2.7 percentage points each year as they progress from freshman to senior year. For each sustainability-related course they take (up to 3), they also gain an average of 2.7 percentage points. Within our core sustainability courses, students gain an average of 11.6 percentage points from pre-test to post-test. Students enter CSUN with a statistically significant gender gap in sustainability knowledge with males having average scores 7.6 percentage points higher than females, but the gender gap closes completely by completion of coursework in a sustainability minor program. Our students enter college with less sustainability knowledge than those in two other more selective institutions who conducted similar surveys (Ohio State University and Wartburg College) but gain knowledge at a similar rate. We also find that students with more prior sustainability knowledge self-select into sustainability courses and that students from different majors improve sustainability knowledge at different rates when taking related courses.

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Background and Purpose of the Study

Colleges and universities across the globe are increasingly focusing their efforts on campus sustainability and related educational curricula. In conjunction with the Institute for Sustainability and the university sustainability curriculum committee, California State University, Northridge has made steps in recent years to improve the sustainability-related course offerings available to undergraduate students. In particular, a minor in Sustainability was added in 2011 and a GE path in sustainability was added in 2012, which offer courses intended to bolster the sustainability understanding of students. 

Beginning in the fall of 2013, a study was initiated to assess the effectiveness of the Sustainability GE path and Sustainability minor by administering questionnaires to students.  Longitudinal assessments are being conducted by administering a sustainability questionnaire to students at the beginning and end of semesters in which they take a SUST-designated course, and students enrolled in the GE Sustainability path will be assessed annually while in the program.  The study also aims to survey general sustainability knowledge of non-sustainability classes.   A latitudinal assessment of the general student body is being conducted by administering the same questionnaire to a representative sample of the student body, which allows us to assess general sustainability knowledge among students by College, gender and year in school. This is useful in gauging the effectiveness of the sustainability curricula and of general awareness of programs in place at the university.

The questionnaire consists of 18 questions developed by The Ohio State University’s Environmental and Social Sustainability Lab, which have been analyzed through Item Response Theory, together with 7 questions generated by CSUN faculty.