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EE Providers

For many years, the environmental education field has focused on providing high-caliber programs to address the lack of environmental literacy being seen in our society. It is past time to turn our attention to scale, reach, and equity.

The Landscape of Environmental Education Providers

in the U.S. Southeast

Published October 2020; Updated September 2023

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A collaboration between

2nd nature trec.webp

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INTRODUCTION

There are numerous organizations providing high-quality environmental education (EE) programs across the southeast. Environmental Education is a process that helps individuals, communities and organizations learn more about the environment, and develop skills and understanding about how to address global challenges (NAAEE, 2022). The southeast faces issues that are common across the country.  Most programs operate independently of one another, and little has been done to harness the collective impact of these programs to create large-scale change in each state or throughout the region.  Funding often goes toward local, disjointed initiatives rather than larger-scale, capacity-building initiatives. This makes it challenging to sustain these projects in the long term or to extend the impact beyond the local community. 


The additional challenge in addressing education issues such as environmental literacy is that there is no central system to work within. The academic standards used to develop and analyze curriculum vary substantially from one state to another. And because most states are “local-control states” (meaning education is governed at the county or district level), even within a single state education can look very different from one county to another.


Aware of these challenges, the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance (SEEA) conducted a landscape analysis of environmental education efforts in the southeast. This analysis was designed to take a comprehensive look at the environmental education already happening on the ground, identify gaps and barriers to access that prevent successful implementation, and provide recommendations and next steps for increasing environmental literacy efforts in the southeast. This analysis will equip the organizations conducting environmental and conservation-related work in the region with the resources they need to address gaps, allocate resources more effectively, and ultimately meet the goal of increasing environmental literacy levels and stewardship behaviors.


In addition, the analysis will serve as a guide for future strategic-planning efforts in individual states, as well as the regional SEEA collaborative. As a tool, it will help ensure that in the future we continue to focus our limited time and resources in areas where we will have the biggest impact.  


Through stakeholder use of this report, educators will have the tools they need to increase the number of students receiving high quality environmental education and broaden the competency of those students to demonstrate improved environmental literacy and age-appropriate stewardship behaviors. Educators and providers will be able to target their efforts in the areas with the highest need, whether that need is demographic, geographic, and/or content based.


 

A Summary for Busy People

For many years, the environmental education field has focused on providing high-caliber programs to address the lack of environmental literacy being seen in our society. It is past time to turn our attention to scale, reach, and equity. To that end, this project provides:

  • a comprehensive look at organizational reach and program offerings

  • a better understanding of the staffing, structure, and funding of organizations and how that affects reach and sustainability 

  • organizational strategies for scaling programs for broader, equitable reach 

  • state-level initiatives for scaling programs for broader, equitable reach

  • state and regional findings to inform future strategic planning efforts


Strengths

  • 646 reporting programs across eight states

  • 2,194,272 students/youth served annually across all programs

  • 16,355 schools served annually

  • 79,857 volunteers across all programs 


Challenges

  • Not all programs responded to the request; therefore, this sample is not necessarily representative of the population as a whole.

  • Many variables that were used for data collection (e.g., starting rate) do not provide clear means of comparison with other widely available national datasets (e.g., median salary and wages). These issues should be addressed in future iterations of the survey.

  • Many programs serve multiple counties, making it difficult to accurately determine the scope of services, including gaps and overlaps.

  • Staff and leadership do not reflect the overall demographics of the state.

  • The average entry level salary for environmental educators is 15-25% lower than comparable fields.

  • There is a need to increase opportunities for engagement at the early childhood and high school level in order for students to receive the same level of engagement in environmental education from kindergarten through 12th grade.

  • There is a need for more support and training around the importance of evaluating programs and better tools to help providers do this in a meaningful way that allows them to strengthen their programs.

  • There are gaps in services found across the region in rural areas, areas with the highest social vulnerability index, and areas with the lowest income.

  • There is a need for additional support and training around the importance of collecting demographic information and how it can be used to strengthen programs and opportunities for broader engagement.


BACKGROUND