Sustainability and Student Assessment at Moraine Valley Community College

Stephenie Presseller, Gabe Estill
Innovation Showcase

While community colleges have increased their sustainability practices and devoted more attention to sustainability in the classroom, few have assessed student learning of sustainability. Despite increased attention to sustainable practices at colleges across the country, little is known about how much community college students know about sustainability and where they need to improve. Moraine Valley Community College has conducted a project that captures data on sustainability in a variety of courses, provided instructors with a concise measurement device, and established a way forward for sustainability and student learning at its campus.

Sustainability at Moraine Valley began in the mid 1970s when the college, understanding the importance of natural resource preservation, set aside 40 acres of its campus to be preserved as a nature study area to use as a living learning lab. Throughout the years, faculty encouraged environmental awareness through recycling and Earth Day celebrations. With support from proactive leadership, the Board of Trustees has adopted a formal Statement of Sustainability Commitment that conveys the college's dedication to sustainability. In 2010, the college opened its Southwest Education Center in Tinley Park, its first U.S. Green Building Council LEED Certified Platinum building, and the first in Illinois.

Sustainability initiatives are supported by Moraine Valley's Center for Sustainability and sustainability staff. The Center for Sustainability was initially made possible in part by funding from the Illinois Green Economy Network, an initiative that unites the state's 48 community colleges in a joint effort to stimulate the green economy through a strategic provision of green workforce training, market transformation, and community outreach.

The Center guides the college's operational and structural procedures and policies towards a balance between the environment, our people, and future prosperity; supports green jobs training, awareness of green businesses in the local area, and building the capacity for the community to create a local green economy; supports infusing sustainability across curricula, creating a larger population of the workforce that understands sustainability and how it relates to their work and lives; and serves as a resource to Moraine Valley students, staff, faculty, business members, and residents.

One of the most successful sustainability and green workforce programs the college offers is the Moraine Valley Learning Academy's Greening Your Curriculum-Prairie Project (GYC-PP) faculty professional development program. Faculty from across disciplines are led through exploration exercises to green their curriculum. As a result of this ongoing effort, the college added sustainability as a general education outcome by the college's Assessment office.

The sustainability assessment project began as an outgrowth of the college's re-accreditation efforts. The college adheres to the Higher Learning Commission's Academic Quality Improvement Program in order to construct projects for continuous improvement. One of the recent projects concerned the assessment of general education learning outcomes. These are the broad skills found throughout the college's general education curriculum.

After establishing the new sustainability learning outcome, a team of faculty and administrators developed a list of meta-outcomes that could help instructors understand what sustainability-related skills students should demonstrate. The meta-outcomes include:

  • Identify the ecological processes and how choices affect the environment
  • Demonstrate awareness of social justice and equity issues and their impact on the global population
  • Distinguish ethically responsible business practices

These skills align with the college's definition of sustainability, which focuses on the ecological, equitable, and ethical aspects of sustainability.

The team then needed a way to measure these skills. Across other general education outcomes, faculty had developed and implemented rubrics to assess student learning and quantify student performance related to the outcome. Instructors use these rubrics on course-embedded student assignments. The new sustainability outcome presented the opportunity to apply an assessment rubric to this project.

The team of faculty and administrators piloted the rubric across four science courses during the spring of 2012. The pilot provided results for over 300 student artifacts. In the fall of 2012, the project expanded to include courses that had undergone the Greening Your Curriculum program.

The results indicate that our students excel (scoring 3.21 on 4 point-scale) at demonstrating their understanding of sustainability's impact on their lives and the work of groups and organizations. However, the students need to improve their understanding of how to apply sustainable concepts to their coursework. The latter skill will be emphasized throughout the upcoming academic year, as academic departments weave sustainability into their annual assessment plans.

The success of this academic strategy has brought the college closer to an integrated institutional approach to sustainability. The college is a leader and integral player in its local community, as well as regionally and statewide. The leadership of its own greening practices in curriculum, campus improvements, and resource development provides direction for the community as it embarks on its own sustainability journeys.

J. Gabe Estill is Director of Academic Assessment at Moraine Valley Community College. He can be reached at

Stephenie Presseller is Sustainability Manager at Moraine Valley Community College. She can be reached at

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.