Community colleges are offering clean energy degree programs as climate-related jobs expand across America

DANVILLE, Ill. (AP) — On Chicago’s South Side, students are learning to work on Rivian electric pickup trucks and SUVs through a new technician program at Olive-Harvey College.

About 150 miles south, students at Danville Area Community College in Illinois learn how to troubleshoot enormous wind turbines dozens of feet tall, along with climbing and safety.

In Albuquerque, students train in wiring and repairing solar panel installations through Central New Mexico Community College’s electrical trade courses.

And in Boston, students are studying how to protect homes and buildings from extreme temperatures at Roxbury Community College’s Center for Smart Building Technology. The focus is on automating and modernizing heating and air conditioning systems so that they contribute less to climate change.

These are all examples of how students in the United States are looking to community colleges for up-to-date training for the increasing number of jobs in climate solutions – from electrification, to wind and solar energy, to energy efficiency, weather resilience, protection of water and farmland and more.

Kyle Johnson has enjoyed working on gasoline-powered cars for a long time. But cars are becoming increasingly electric.

“When it came to electric cars, I knew times were changing, and I didn’t want to be left behind,” says the 34-year-old, now enrolled at Olive-Harvey. “Climate change has a lot to do with my decision.”

The warming planet piques the interest of many students like Johnson. The job market was already changing as more companies stepped up to tackle climate change, and now legislation, including the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, is driving more investment, meaning they’ll have plenty of jobs to pursue. Millions of workers in the clean energy sector are needed to meet the ambitious targets that governments and companies have set to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. So many of these employment opportunities are growing faster than total U.S. employment.

Instructor Brian Lovell has seen that firsthand.

“While the students are still in the program, they get to work because the demands of the industry are so acute,” he said of Roxbury. “We have seen an extreme increase in recent years.”

Of course, job seekers can also pursue training through local employers and unions to gain skills for the clean energy profession. But community colleges, taking their cues directly from businesses in their region and from state economic development and labor departments, are quickly adapting hands-on training, combined with academics, to jobs that open up.

“More than half of these jobs will require less than a bachelor’s degree and more than a high school diploma,” said Kate Kinder, executive director of the National Council for Workforce Education. “That’s the best space for a community college.”

The prospects attract students like Tannar Pouilliard, who remembers a wind farm quickly popping up near his childhood home. He had thought he would become an automotive technician, but learning about the opportunities in the wind led him to enroll in Danville’s wind energy technician courses.

“Turning keys and all that kind of stuff, that’s always something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s just a broader opportunity,” he said. “It really opens the door for people looking for a job here.”

At the same time, the bigger picture for community colleges is that they have lost students, similar to the rest of higher education. Currently, more and more people are entering the workforce straight out of high school, and some community colleges have not yet recovered from enrollment declines during the pandemic. That’s why some schools say investing in these programs is a balancing act between staying relevant and risking a bet on technology that’s too young.

“We are feeling the pressure,” said Monica Brummer, director of the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy at Centralia College in Washington. “If we create a curriculum today for, say, a hydrogen technician, it may not be the curriculum we need in two or three years because the technology is changing so quickly… I say let’s weave the technology into existing classrooms.”

Some schools are hoping to adapt without having to cut back on expensive new resources and specialized instructors, which can be difficult to find. Inver Hills Community College in Minnesota launched a climate change certificate in 2022, based on existing areas of study at the school, and administrators are considering expanding it. Similarly, Cape Cod Community College recently transitioned from specialized workforce training to a broader renewable energy certificate that students from all fields of study can pursue.

Other community colleges are focusing on helping students like Sarah Solis transition to four-year degrees related to climate change.

The 1,000-acre Inglewood Oil Field, near West Los Angeles College, where she first enrolled, was what prompted Solis to pursue environmental studies. She later transferred to the school’s Climate Change degree, which was new at the time. The climate offering has grown since then; it now houses the California Center for Climate Change Education.

Solis transferred to the University of California, Davis, where he earned a degree in environmental science and management. But she attributes her success today to teaching urban farms how to sustainably adapt to a warming future — such as adding cover crops or using compost — to her community college experience.

Many other students do that too.

“It was a complete life changer,” Solis said. “I wouldn’t be an environmental scientist today if I hadn’t gone to West.”


This story has been corrected to refer to Centralia College, instead of Centralia Community College.


St. John reported from Detroit.


Alexa St. John is an Associated Press climate solutions reporter. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, @alexa_stjohn. Reach her at


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