Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education

First Advisor

Dr. Charles Henderson

Second Advisor

Dr. Heather Petcovic

Third Advisor

Dr. Maarten Vonhoff


Sustainability, education, policy, policy implementation, education for sustainability, higher education


Higher Education institutions (HEIs) have the potential to be significant contributors in the pursuit of a sustainable world through the incorporation of Education for Sustainability (EFS). However, HEIs are entrenched with structures and values that are often resistant to change. The literature reveals that instructors’ beliefs and institutional contexts are the two main factors that impact the implementation of institutional change for sustainability education. Western Michigan University (WMU) has created new required curriculum “WMU Essential Studies” (WES) for undergraduate students and they have targeted sustainability as an essential learning outcome, by integrating and applying it in content courses. Using a case study approach, this study examines how WMU is bringing an institutional change with regards to implementation of education for sustainability at the institutional level and what kind of barriers and avenues instructors will face for implementing sustainability learning outcomes. Results show that instructors’ own beliefs and attitudes play important roles in teaching sustainability. Most instructors (N=14/18, 77%) were passionate about teaching sustainability. Instructors who chose to list their class as a sustainability class under WES were already teaching sustainability long before WES and sustainability is a main focus of their courses. Most instructors (N=5/7, 71%) who didn’t choose to list their class as a sustainability class under WES indicated that they do teach sustainability, but it is not the primary focus of their course. Most participants (N=20/23, 86%) see WES as a tool to institutionalize the teaching and assessment of sustainability on campus. All instructors mentioned that prior to WES, there was no institutional policy that tried to implement sustainability education at WMU.

Along with its positive effects on teaching sustainability, WES also posed some barriers that led many instructors (N=8/18, 44%) to not list their classes a sustainability class under WES. Most instructors who didn’t choose sustainability (N=6/7, 71%) felt that the WES sustainability learning outcome rubric is inflexible and difficult to understand, which made them reluctant to choose sustainability. Most WES administrators (N=9/11, 81%) said that the rubric needs to be general to help instructors from variety of different departments in designing their learning outcomes. But, only a few instructors (N=3/18, 16%) said that the WES rubric helped them connect their course topics with sustainability. Most instructors saw assessment as a barrier to making sustainability an essential learning outcome. Some instructors (N=5/18, 27%) view the WES requirement to assess sustainability as an extra burden on instructors and are concerned about how they will do it.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access