Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Environmental Sciences and Management


Natural Resources Management


College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences


Priya Verma

Advisor Department

Natural Resources Management

Advisor College

College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences


Sustainability education has become an important focus of many higher education institutions (HEIs), with the inclusion of many sustainability-related learning objectives for undergraduate students. As sustainability is a new, rising discipline, an increasing number of HEIs have made efforts to assess their teaching and learning effectiveness. However, most assessments fall short in determining the relationship between sustainability curriculum and the impacts on leaning outcomes. Therefore, this study aims to assess the impact of academic setting, specifically of a structured sustainability curriculum, on undergraduate sustainability knowledge, as well as analyze the implications of perceived barriers and opportunities to implementing sustainability into academics. Using California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) as a case study, this research emphasizes the results from an online sustainability knowledge survey administered to honors students who take a structured sustainability knowledge curriculum and general students who are not required to take any sustainability courses, but can elect to do so. The study reveals that honors students have significantly higher sustainability knowledge scores (SKS) after taking a structured sustainability curriculum, but also reveals that those post-curriculum SKS of honors students are not significantly different from that of general students after taking 3 courses. The results further indicate that honors students that take a 3-course sustainability curriculum do not score significantly higher than those that take a 1-course sustainability curriculum. However, general students that take 3 sustainability-related courses score significantly higher than general students who take 0, or 1 to 2 sustainability-related courses. These results suggest that unlike honors students, general students need to take a minimum of 3 courses in sustainability to achieve significantly higher SKS. The findings also show that the SKS of students do not significantly differ across colleges and that the SKS of students in the general population have the potential to improve, suggesting that additional sustainability education can benefit all students. Additionally, the analysis of student perceptions reveals that students support the integration of sustainability into existing courses, which can help address the main perceived barriers of time constraints, lack of course promotion, and lack of relevance to major. Ultimately, the results suggest that university-level decision-makers should focus efforts on integrating sustainability into existing courses, increasing the opportunity for all students to take at least 3 sustainability-related courses during their undergraduate experience. Such efforts would be a first step in developing sustainability education at an HEI and would help achieve significant improvement in undergraduate student SKS.