Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Michael Beevers




Ecological literacy measures a person’s knowledge of ecological systems, care for their immediate and global environment, and level of action to reduce his or her personal and communal impact on the environment. This study investigates the level of ecological literacy of first year students who entered seven liberal arts colleges in Pennsylvania in the fall of 2013. The institutions included in the study are Allegheny College, Bryn Mawr College, Bucknell University, Dickinson College, Gettysburg College, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College. 426 students were surveyed during their first three months of college, and the data was processed to quantify the number of students who are ecologically literate and to examine the potential triggers for and pathways towards ecological literacy. The study shows that 58 percent of students have some level of ecological literacy while the remaining students are ecologically illiterate. In addition to questions that tested for ecological literacy, the survey collected demographic information and gauged a student’s level of exposure to nature. This study does not find that these factors are predictors of a person’s level of ecological literacy. Between the three sections of ecological literacy, a student’s level of care does correlate with a student’s level of action, but neither action nor caring correlate with knowledge. The aim of this research is to support schools in better catering their sustainability efforts towards students with low levels of ecological literacy, so all students who reach the undergraduate level of education will leave the educational system with a basic understanding of the major environmental issues facing today’s world, a feeling of responsibility to address these challenges, and the competencies to contribute positively towards building a more sustainable society.