AC 1: Academic Courses – version 2.2
Data Accuracy Video
Frequently Asked Questions
How has this credit changed between STARS 2.1 and 2.2?
Minor changes to terminology and clarifications for definitions have been added. New language and clarifications have been added to Measurement. A comprehensive list of differences can be found in the 2.2 Summary of changes.
What is the difference between sustainability-focused courses (a.k.a. sustainability courses) and sustainability-inclusive courses?
To count as a sustainability course, the course title or description must indicate a primary and explicit focus on sustainability. The course title or description does not have to use the term “sustainability” to count as sustainability-focused if the primary and explicit focus of the course is on the interdependence of ecological and social/economic systems or a major sustainability challenge such as climate change.
If the course title and description do not unequivocally indicate such a focus, but it is evident from the course description or syllabus that the course incorporates sustainability challenges, issues, and concepts in a prominent way, the course may qualify as course that includes sustainability (a.k.a. sustainability-inclusive).
Note: Both types of courses earn points at the same rate. When in doubt, a course should be counted as sustainability-inclusive rather than sustainability-focused.
What information do we need to include in our course inventory?
For each course, the inventory must provide the following at minimum:
- The course title
- The department (or equivalent) associated with the course
- The level of each course, either indicated descriptively (e.g., undergraduate or UG) or by guiding language (e.g.,“courses 500 and above indicate graduate level”).
- A brief course description or rationale explaining why the course is included, i.e., that references sustainability, the interdependence of ecological and social/economic systems, or a sustainability challenge
- An indication of whether the course qualifies as sustainability-focused or sustainability-inclusive (or equivalent terminology).
Is a particular format or file type required for the course inventory?
No. However, providing your course inventory in spreadsheet format makes it more accessible to students, reviewers, and other audiences. Spreadsheets also allow for course counts to be automatically calculated and quickly checked to ensure they align with the figures reported in the STARS Reporting Tool. AASHE makes available a course inventory template that may be helpful (see below).
What other credits across STARS include similar data that should remain consistent?
For this credit, the Number of academic departments can be shared between PRE 5 and AC 1. See related Help Center article on sharing information between credits.
Resources, Templates & Tools
- Faculty survey template. Ask academic staff to self-identify sustainability courses and research.
- Academic course inventory. Download Excel file or copy Google Sheet. Use or adapt this template to document sustainability course offerings and, optionally, track linkages to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- Sample keywords to help identify sustainability challenges (derived from the Earth Charter and SDG targets). Use or adapt to conduct a preliminary keyword search of a course catalog. The presence of a keyword may or may not indicate that a sustainability challenge is addressed. Additional analysis is required.
- SDG targets
- British Columbia Institute of Technology – Used the recommended STARS 2.2 Academic Courses inventory template. Supplemental information about addressing the UN SDGs is included.
- Knox College – Inventory fully meets criteria and counts are included. Good reporting example for small institutions.
- Lehigh University – Courses being counted clearly meet the criteria for sustainability course offerings. Inventory is clear, detailed and includes supplemental information on UN SDGs.
- Pennsylvania State University – Clear methodology and inventory. A discrepancy in course counts between what is reported in credit and what is listed in the inventory is explained in the Notes field. Good reporting example for large institutions.
- Saint Michael’s College – The inventory includes all required content, includes counts based on number of sections over 3 years, and connects courses to SDGs.
- Santa Clara University – Comprehensive methodology. Inventory goes above and beyond minimum requirements, and includes a unique “sustainability id” column, which identifies courses as addressing challenges, inclusion in a unit or module, etc.
- Susquehanna University – Inventory is comprehensive (doc format). A good reporting example for small institutions or those reporting relatively few courses.
- University of California, Davis – Good example of a comprehensive academic course inventory from a large institution. Discrepancy in inventory counts is clarified in the methodology description section.
- University of Southern California – Great documentation on methodology. The inventory is detailed and includes separate tabs for each course type, with totals labeled in the tab.
- University of Sydney – Good methodology and documentation, and detail is provided on SDGs. Course counts are in alignment between the inventory and amounts reported under the credit. A discrepancy in department counts is clarified in the Notes field.
Common Issues Identified During Review
- Score outlier: It is uncommon for institutions to earn full points or very close to it. If a high score is reported, please check closely for the issues below.
- Numeric outlier: A low response under “Total number of academic departments that offer courses” (below 10) is unlikely and should be reviewed closely (particularly for medium-sized or larger institutions). Academic departments are devoted to a particular academic discipline (e.g., Economics, Environmental Science, Sociology). Valid discrepancies or clarifications should be clarified in the Notes field.
- Definitions for “sustainability-focused courses” and “sustainability-inclusive courses” should be followed. To count, the course title or description must include the term “sustainability”; focus on ecological and social/economic systems; OR focus or a major sustainability challenge. A common mistake is identifying courses as sustainability-focused that only address the social component (e.g. Social Work, International Relations) without referencing ecological dimensions or a sustainability challenge.
- Inventory is complete: For each course, the inventory should include, at minimum, the title, department (or equivalent), and level of each course (i.e., undergraduate or graduate), as well as a brief course description (or rationale for why the course is being included). The course description or rationale must clarify how the course references sustainability, the interdependence of ecological and social/economic systems, or a sustainability challenge. A common mistake is omitting some or all course descriptions.
- The count of courses reported under the credit should be consistent with the count included in the inventory. Valid discrepancies must be clarified in the Notes field.
- Data Consistency: Number of academic departments should be consistent between PRE 5 and AC 1 if the same Performance Year is used. Valid discrepancies must be clarified in the Notes field.