Higher Education Sustainability Act

Federal Policy

Higher Education Sustainability Act

Higher Education Sustainability Act

The federal government has no higher education grant-making program specifically for climate change education. It does however have a higher education grant making program for sustainability education, a very close cousin. The Higher Education Sustainability Act of 2021 authorizes the Department of Education to continue to operate the University Sustainability Program and makes minor updates to the USP grant-making criteria. USP makes two types of grants:

  1. To individual colleges and universities to:
    • Develop and implement administrative and operations practices that test, model, and analyze principles of sustainability.
    • Establish multidisciplinary education, research, and outreach programs that address the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainability.
    • Support research and teaching initiatives that focus on multidisciplinary and integrated environmental, economic, and social elements.
    • Scale established initiatives in the areas of energy management, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, green building, waste management, purchasing, toxics management, transportation, resilience, green workforce, and other aspects of sustainability.
    • Expand sustainability literacy on campus.
    • Integrate sustainability curricula in all programs of instruction, particularly in business, economics, law, political science, architecture, technology, manufacturing, engineering, and science programs.
  2. To Partnerships (a nonprofit consortium, association, alliance, or collaboration operating in partnership with one or more colleges or universities) to:
    • To conduct faculty, staff and administrator training on the subjects related to sustainability and institutional change.
    • To compile, evaluate, and disseminate best practices, case studies, guidelines and standards regarding sustainability.
    • To engage external stakeholders such as business, city and state governments, alumni, and accrediting agencies in the process of building support for sustainability.
    • To conduct professional development programs for faculty to enable them to incorporate sustainability content in their courses.
    • To create the analytical tools necessary to assess and measure their individual progress toward fully sustainable campus operations and fully integrating sustainability into the curriculum.
    • To develop educational benchmarks for institutions of higher education to determine the necessary rigor and effectiveness of academic sustainability programs.

A short history of the bill

In 2007, the Campaign for Environmental Literacy worked with Senator Patty Murray and Representative Earl Blumenauer to create the Higher Education Sustainability Act. We then led the effort to enlist over 300 college and university presidents and 25 higher education associations to endorse this bill. The bill language was subsequently included in the Higher Education Opportunity Act which became law in 2008, and the program created by the bill language at the Department of Education is called the University Sustainability Program (USP). USP made grants in FY2010, but Congress did not fund it in subsequent years. The Higher Education Act is now up for reauthorization, and we are fighting to keep the USP language in the reauthorized bill.

Current status: In 2019, the House issued their version of a new higher education act, called the College Affordability Act (H.R. 4674), which was passed by the Education and Labor Committee but did not get a vote by the full House. Our assumption is that this same bill will be reintroduced this year. Thanks to the help of many organizations and individuals, this bill includes the University Sustainability Program.

We took a different tack in the Senate. We asked Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to introduce a new, stand-alone Higher Education Sustainability Act, which he kindly agreed to do (S. 2829) in 2019. Now we have a vehicle for which we can recruit co-sponsors and thus demonstrate growing Senate support.

While this bill died at the end of the 116th Congress, we expect that it will be reintroduced in the beginning of 2021.

University Sustainability Program (USP) Endorsers (310)

Higher Education Associations:

American Academy of Religion

American Association of Community Colleges

American Association of State Colleges and Universities

American College Personnel Association

American Council on Education

American Dental Education Association

American Studies Association

APPA (Association of Physical Plant Administrators)

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education

Association of American Colleges and Universities

Association of College & Research Libraries

Association of College and University Housing Officers – International

Association of College Unions International

Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges

Collegiate Conference and Events Directors-International

Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

Council of Environmental Deans and Directors

Ecological Society of America

Evangelical Environmental Network

Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network

Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium

Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities 

National Association of Biology Teachers

National Association for Campus Activities

National Association of College and University Business Officers

National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association

Society for College and University Planning

U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development




American Institute of Architects

Au Sable Institute

Campaign for Environmental Literacy

Comprehensive US Sustainable Population

Clean Air-Cool Planet

Environmental Education Association of Washington

Earth Day Network

Massachusetts Audubon Society

National Council for Science and the Environment

National Recycling Coalition

National Wildlife Federation

New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability

North American Association for Environmental Education

Ocean Project

Second Nature

U.S. Green Building Council




Colleges and Universities (by State):

University of Alaska Anchorage, AK

John Brown University, AR

Northwest Arkansas Community College, AR

University of Arkansas, AR

Arizona State University, AZ

Prescott College, AZ

Rio Salado College, AZ

Alliant International University, CA

Antioch University Santa Barbara, CA

California State Maritime Academy, CA

California State Polytechnic University, CA

California State University, Bakersfield, CA

California State University, Chico, CA

California State University, Channel Islands, CA

California State University, East Bay, CA

California State University, Los Angeles, CA

California State University, Monterey Bay, CA

California State University, Northridge, CA

California State University, Sacramento, CA

California State University, San Berardino, CA

California State University, San Marcos, CA

California State University, Stanislaus, CA

Foothill College, CA

Golden West College, CA

Humboldt State University, CA

Loyola Marymount University, CA

San Francisco State University, CA

San Diego State University, CA

San Jose State University, CA

Sonoma State University, CA

University of California, CA

University of California, San Diego, CA

University of California, Santa Cruz,CA

Whittier College, CA

Adams State College, CO

University of Colorado at Boulder, CO

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, CO

Central Connecticut State University, CT

Southern Connecticut State University, CT

Wesleyan University, CT

George Mason University, DC

University of Central Florida, FL

University of Florida, FL

Agnes Scott College, GA

Berry College, GA

Kennesaw State University, GA

Lagrange College, GA

Life University, GA

Interdenominational Theological Center, GA

Southern Polytechnic State University, GA

Toccoa Falls College, GA

University of Hawai’i at Manoa, HI

University of Idaho, ID

AIB College of Business, IA

Allen College, IA

Ashford University, IA

Briar Cliff University, IA

Central College, IA

Clarke College, IA

Coe College, IA 

Des Moines Area Community College, IA

Des Moines University, IA

Eastern Iowa Community College, IA

Grand View College, IA

Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, IA

Iowa Lakes Community College, IA

Iowa Wesleyan College. IA

Kirkwood Community College, IA

Loras College, IA

Luther College, IA

Morningside College, IA

Mount Mercy College, IA

Northeast Iowa Community College, IA

Northwestern College, IA

St. Ambrose University, IA  

Simpson College, IA 

William Penn University, IA

College of Lake County, IA

Kankakee Community College, IL

University of Illinois at Chicago, IL

University of St. Francis, IL

Ball State University, IN

Goshen College, IN

Franklin College, IN

Indiana State University, IN

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, IN

Mid-America Nazarene University, KS)

Southwestern College, KS

Berea College, KY

Anna Maria College, MA

Babson College, MA

Bunker Hill Community College, MA

Cape Cod Community College, MA

Fisher College, MA

Fitchburg State College, MA

Gordon College, MA

Harvard University, MA

Lesley University, MA

Massachusetts College of Art and Design, MA

Mount Wachusett Community College, MA

North Shore Community College, MA

Pine Manor College, MA

Smith College, MA

Westfield State College, MA

Worcester State College, MA

Bowie State University, MD

Frostburg State University, MD

Goucher College, MD

Harford Community College, MD

Howard Community College, MD

Park University, MD

Towson University, MD

Washington College, MD

Bates College, ME

Bowdoin College, ME

College of the Atlantic, ME

Unity College, ME

University of Maine at Fort Kent, ME

University of Maine at Farmington, ME

University of Maine at Machias, ME

University of Maine at Presque Isle, ME

North Central Michigan College, MI

Jackson Community College, MI

Albion College, MI

Delta College, MI

Grand Valley State University, MI

Kalamazoo College, MI

Michigan State University, MI

St. Clair County Community College, MI

University of Michigan, MI

Western Michigan University, MI

College of Saint Benedict, MN

Dakota County Technical College, MN

Inver Hills Community College, MN

Saint John’s University, MN

University of Minnesota Morris, MN

Vermilion Community College, MN

Winona State University, MN

University of Central Missouri, MO

Montana State University, MT

University of Montana, MT

University of Nebraska at Omaha, NB

Western Nebraska Community College, NB

Carolinas College of Health Sciences, NC

Haywood Community College, NC

Durham Technical Community College, NC

Warren Wilson College, NC

New Hampshire Community Technical College, NH

Antioch University New England, NH

Franklin Pierce University, NH

Keene State College, NH

University of New Hampshire, NH

Southern New Hampshire University, NH

Plymouth State University, NH

Colby-Sawyer College, NH

The College of New Jersey, NJ

Ocean County College, NJ

Rider University, NJ

Saint Peter’s College, NJ

William Paterson University, NJ

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV

Alfred University, NY

Bard College, NY

The City College of New York, NY

College of Staten Island, NY

Onondaga Community College, NY

New York University, NY

Paul Smith’s College, NY  

Pratt Institute, NY

St. Lawrence University, NY

State University of New York – Binghamton University, NY

State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, NY

State University of New York Cortland, NY

State University of New York at Geneseo, NY

State University of New York at Oswego, NY

State University of New York, Purchase College, NY

Stony Brook University, NY

Sullivan County Community College, NY

Syracuse University, NY

Union College, NY

University at Buffalo; State University of New York ,NY

Wells College, NY

Case Western Reserve University, OH

Cincinnati State Technical & Community College, OH

Columbus State Community College, OH

Denison University, OH

Hiram College, OH

Hocking College, OH

Oberlin College, OH

Lorain County Community College, OH

Mount Union College, OH

Ohio University, OH

Tiffin University, OH

University of Cincinnati, OH

University of Toledo, OH

Northeastern State University, OK

Lane Community College, OR

Oregon Health and Science University,  OR

Oregon State University, OR

Portland State University, OR

University of Oregon, OR

Allegheny College, PA

Chatham University, PA

Dickinson College, PA

Duquesne University, PA

Gettysburg College, PA

Keystone College, PA

Juniata College, PA

Montgomery County Community College, PA

Rosemont College, PA

Ursinus College, PA

Villanova University, PA

Washington and Jefferson College, PA

Wilkes University, PA

Wilson College, PA

Universidad del Sagrado Corazon, PR

University of Rhode Island, RI

Furman University, SC

Black Hills State University, SD

University of Tennessee, TN

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, TN

University of the South, TN

Houston Community College, TX

Lee College, TX

McLennan Community College, TX

North Lake College, TX

Richland College, TX

Trinity University, TX

University of North Texas, TX

University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southwest College, TX

Weber State University, UT

Westminster College, UT

Emory & Henry College, VA

Hollins University, VA

Shenandoah University, VA

Sweet Briar College, VA

Virginia Wesleyan College, VA

Washington and Lee University, VA

Champlain College, VT

Green Mountain College, VT

Middlebury College, VT

University of Vermont, VT

Bellingham Technical College, WA

Cascadia Community College, WA

Central Washington University, WA

Centralia College, WA

Eastern Washington University, WA

Edmonds Community College, WA

The Evergreen State College, WA

Olympic College, WA

Pacific Lutheran University, WA

Tacoma Community College, WA

Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges, WA

Washington State University, WA

Western Washington University, WA

Whatcom Community College, WA

University of Puget Sound, WA

University of Washington, WA

College of Menominee Nation, WI

Lakeshore Technical College, WI

Madison Area Technical College, WI

University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, WI

University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh. WI

University of Wisconsin – River  Falls, WI

University of Wisconsin- Superior, WI

University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point, WI

University of Wisconsin- Whitewater, WI

Western Technical College, WI