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We get asked this question pretty regularly, and the topic recently came up on the Green School discussion list. I thought I’d take a stab at pulling together all the research on this question that I’m aware of.

Until recently, there was only anecdotal evidence that an institution’s sustainability performance was important to prospective students. Many campuses reported that prospective students and their parents were asking questions about campus sustainability with increasing frequency, but there was minimal data on either the breadth or the depth of interest in sustainability among prospective students.

That is beginning to change as quantitative evidence that sustainability influences admissions decisions has started to emerge. Almost two thirds (63 percent) of the 10,300 respondents to The Princeton Review’s 2008 College Hopes & Worries Survey indicated that they would value having information about a college’s commitment to the environment and that it might impact their decision to apply to or attend the school. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) said this information would “strongly” or “very much” contribute to decisions about which schools to apply to or attend. Another survey of over 1700 students at a diverse group of nine campuses by researchers at the College of William and Mary found that “current freshmen are two times more likely to choose their school based on sustainability concerns than the entering freshman class just 3 years ago (13.5% vs. 6.5%, respectively).”

These findings are bolstered by the results of a 2008 survey of 240,580 first-year, full-time students at 340 four-year institutions conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute. Almost half (45.3 percent) said “adopting ‘green’ practices to protect the environment” is “essential” or “very important” to them.

The recent attention to campus greening from the major college guide companies is further evidence of demand for such information from prospective students. The 2009 editions of Princeton Review’s college guides included a new “Green Rating” for 534 colleges and universities. The Kaplan College Guide 2009 included a special “Green Section” featuring 25 green campuses and 10 green careers. Peterson’s, another college guide company, is planning to release a guide to green campuses sometime in 2009, and the US News & World Report has expressed interest in developing green rankings of its own.

In sum, the available evidence is consistent in suggesting that a significant, and likely growing, proportion of prospective students are making decisions about where to apply and attend based on campus sustainability performance.

UPDATE (4/1/09): The Princeton Review’s 2009 College Hopes & Worries Survey has just come out, and the results are very consistent with the 2008 version of the survey referenced above. In answer to the question “If you (your child) had a way to compare colleges based on their commitment to environmental issues (from academic offerings to practices concerning energy use, recycling, etc.), how much would this contribute to your (your child’s) decision to apply to or attend a school?”, 66% of 15,722 respondents said they would favor having such information (up 3% from in 2008), and 24% said it would “Strongly” or “Very Much” contribute to their assessment of a school.

If you know of other data about the relationship between admissions decisions and campus sustainability, please share it in the comments.