Major matters: Relationship between academic major and university students’ environmental literacy and citizenship as reflected in their voting decisions and environmental activism

Daphne Goldman, Ofira Ayalon, Dorit Baum, Shay Haham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Institutions of higher education (HE) are increasingly expected to rise to the challenge of preparing environmentally literate graduates, equipped to bring a sustainability perspective into their professional function. While considerable research has explored the relationship between HE and tendency for political participation in general, studies on a possible relationship between exposure to environmental content during studies and students’ inclusion of environmental considerations in political participation, as a component of their environmental literacy and indicator of the level of their environmental literacy, are lacking. Therefore, this study investigated, in a large university, the relationship between students’ disciplinary major and their environmental literacy and citizenship as reflected in their inclusion of the environment in decision-making as voters and in citizen-society activism. A questionnaire was administrated to students from departments that include environment-related courses (‘exposed’) and departments that do not explicitly include environmental content (‘unexposed’). The questionnaire investigated exposure to environmental content, EL-dimensions (knowledge, dispositions, self-reported involvement in environmentally-responsible behaviours), voting characteristics. All these variables were found to be significantly related to academic major: ‘Natural Resource and Environmental Management’ and Geography majors acknowledged greater exposure to environmental topics and were more knowledgeable of these. These students, along with biology majors, reported being more active in responsible environmental behaviour (REB) and in environmental organizations. ‘Exposed’ students rated higher environmental issues as factors that influence their political decision-making, declared greater willingness to vote for environmentally-oriented parties and reported increased support for such parties in the 2006 and 2009 elections compared to ‘unexposed’ students. Results also indicate that despite these differences between the two groups, self-reported participation of ‘exposed’ students in REB and in civic society was lower than could be expected. Results indicate that two interplaying factors may underlie the relationship between academic major and students’ environmentalism: a transformative influence of studies via the content, ideas and philosophies of the studied discipline, and pre-existing orientation of students which influences their choice of studies. These processes can be taken into consideration towards incorporating sustainability within different academic programs in a manner that will be effective in educating environmentally-responsible graduates and preparing them as influential environmental citizens and professionals in society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)671-693
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental and Science Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by iSER, International Society of Educational Research.


  • Academic major
  • Environmental literacy
  • Higher education
  • Political voting
  • Responsible environmental behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Engineering


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