Some observations about green college and university ratings

August 16th, 2013 by

This post originally appeared on Environmental News Bits.

Earlier this week, I posted about the Princeton Review’s list of green colleges and universities. Now, Sierra Magazine has released their seventh annual list.

Interestingly, two of the top three schools on Sierra’s list didn’t make the Princeton Review’s Honor Roll (perfect score of 99). They were the University of California-Davis (number 3 on Sierra’s list) and the University of Connecticut (number 1 on Sierra’s list).

This discrepancy made me curious, so I investigated further. Sierra Magazine and the Princeton Review collaborated with AASHE and the Sustainable Endowments Institute to create the Campus Sustainability Data Collector (CSDC), which is meant to simplify reporting for schools. In other words, they appear to be using the same data set. The Princeton Review has more information on the partnership here.

The CSDC FAQ offers this advice to schools who use the aggregated service:

How do I know what information to complete for each organization?
The Princeton Review and Sierra magazine have identified the specific data fields of particular interest that they are looking for institutions to complete. A link to both organizations’ websites outlining the specific STARS credits they are seeking is posted in the “Share Data” section of the STARS Reporting Tool and Campus Sustainability Data Collector. Please note, the Sustainable Endowments Institute has suspended the production of the College Sustainability Report Card and will no longer be seeking data for this publication.

CSDC’s Data Sharing Overview has this to say:

The Princeton Review and Sierra magazine are seeking data from specific STARS credits to be considered in their evaluation of institutional sustainability efforts for their publications.  In addition, Sierra magazine is seeking one supplemental data field (SD 10). Any information documented in the supplemental section does not impact a STARS rating and will not be posted publicly in an institution’s STARS Report. Completing these fields is optional but important if your institution would like to be considered for inclusion in Sierra magazine’s Cool Schools issue.

I also took a look at the methodologies for the respective lists (Sierra Magazine’s is here, Princeton Review’s is here). Sierra Magazine has this to say about their evaluation criteria:

Evaluation was based primarily on schools’ responses to the survey but when appropriate, we made follow-up inquires by phone and e-mail and used publicly available outside sources to verify and complement survey responses. Final ranking decisions, however, were based on our scoring key, a rubric which emphasizes the Sierra Club’s environmental priorities and rewards schools that do a good job of measuring and mitigating their impact. When it came to survey responses, all submitted materials were considered, though where answers were blank, unclear, or inconsistent, institutions were not awarded full credit.

The Princeton Review provides a list of their required CSDC fields here. They also state:

We asked all the schools we annually collect data from to answer questions about their efforts to provide (and continually develop) an environmentally beneficial student experience. The questions were created in consultation with ecoAmerica, a research- and partnership-based environmental nonprofit that convened an expert committee to design this comprehensive ranking system.

To sum up, although colleges and universities submit their data using the same system, each organization uses a specific subset of that data to compile their lists and, at least in the case of Sierra Magazine, may also have additional evaluation criteria.

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