An Exploration of the Relationship between Sustainability-Related Involvement and Learning in Higher Education

Tufts University, University of Michigan

Publication Release Date: May 4, 2022
Date Posted: May 20, 2022
Submitted by: Kelly Jones
Sustainability Topic: Campus Engagement
Content Type: Publications
Publisher: MDPI
Periodical Name: Sustainability
Type: Journal Article


Higher education institutions are charged with developing civically engaged leaders to address the pressing issues facing the country and the world. While existing literature suggests institutional practices, such as promoting co-curricular involvement, hold promise for fostering key learning outcomes, educational literature suggests the benefits of participation may not be shared by all students. Using structural equation modeling, we examine the role of background characteristics (i.e., race/ethnicity and gender) and co-curricular participation in sustainability-related activities in fostering climate change leadership development and sustainability activism. We find that women reported significantly higher systems thinking, futures thinking, leadership development, and activism. Additionally, our results suggest systems thinking and futures thinking are key learning outcomes related to students’ climate change leadership development and activism. Moreover, we find a small negative relationship between sustainability literacy and leadership development and activism, suggesting there might exist an inflection point at which more knowledge about climate change and sustainability issues makes students less likely to engage in leadership and activism behaviors. We discuss the implications of this work for sustainability education pedagogy in higher education.


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